UFC’s Chael Sonnen blasts New York for anti-MMA legislation

Chael Sonnen didn't back down when asked about the ban on MMA in New York. Credit: Getty Images
Chael Sonnen didn’t back down when asked about the ban on MMA in New York.
Credit: Getty Images

Chael Sonnen offered a challenge to New York State legislators: Be honest about why Mixed Martial Arts is banned in New York.

“Just come clean,” Sonnen said during his media availability Thursday morning at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden to promote Saturday night’s UFC 159 pay-per-view card at the Prudential Center. Sonnen will challenge UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones for the title in the main event.

Sonnen was joined by Jones and semi-main event fighters Alan Belcher, Michael Bisping, Cheick Kongo, Roy Nelson and UFC President Dana White at the two-and-a-half hour media session.

“[The legislators should admit], ‘Listen, we don’t have the courage to stand up to the unions. They gave us a bunch of money and they put us in office. We’re not skilled enough to go into the private sector and do anything. We really need these jobs we have, so we’re going to go ahead and keep you out,’” Sonnen said.

New York and Alaska are the only states in which professional MMA is illegal. The sport has been banned in New York since 1997 when Gov. George Pataki signed a bill to prohibit professional, sanctioned fights.

Strangely, Muay Thai, kickboxing and amateur MMA is legal in New York.

“I think they can legalize any laws that they want. They have somehow banned 32-ounce cups of Coca-Cola in New York City. So as long as they follow the democratic process I’m all for it. The problem that I have is representation has not been restored in New York. You will not find a New Yorker that doesn’t want this. But their legislature doesn’t have the courage to go and represent the people that put them in office,” Sonnen said. “To find courage within a state legislature is extremely rare.”

At the time, the sport was labeled “human cockfighting” by Sen. John McCain, a label the UFC continues to struggle against. White said yesterday he and the UFC’s owners, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, have spent 13 years trying to “educate” lawmakers and journalists about the sport.

Bills legalizing MMA have passed the state Senate each of the last four years, only to be stalled in the Assembly. Earlier this month, the state Senate passed a bill that would legalize the sport.

But White is pessimistic that the bill will pass the Assembly due to the efforts of the Culinary Union. The union has waged a long and costly battle with the Fertittas over their Las Vegas casinos’ employment of non-union employees.

Had the bill passed, the UFC was going to have its 20th anniversary show at Madison Square Garden and it is believed that the main event would have been a superfight between Jones and UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva.

“We don’t need New York but New York could damn sure use us. We have evidence that we could bring in $10 million in a 24-hour period to this city. We have evidence that if we bring Expo — which Dana White has very clearly said he would do — we could bring in $40 million in the course of a week. The actual number was $60 million but I’m just rounding it down to 40 so no one argues with me,” Sonnen said.

“If New York doesn’t want it, we’ll go right across the bridge to New Jersey and sell out like we’re doing Saturday. We’ll go to Connecticut, which just legalized it. We’ll go to any of the other 47 states in the country that want it. New York needs us. We don’t need them. That’s my stance.

“This isn’t just a sport anymore; it’s an industry. If they don’t want industry in New York and that’s the choice of the New Yorkers, then I completely respect that. My pushback is that is not what the people are saying. My pushback is that here we are in New York in a packed Madison Square Garden media room and the competition is going to take place 12 miles away. It’s going to go over the bridge which means the taxes and the gross receipts are all going to go to Gov. [Chris] Christie’s state. That’s on New York. If they don’t want business, we can’t force it upon them.”

Follow MMA writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.



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  1. Correction: MMA is also banned in Connecticut. MMA events are held at casinos like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun but those are Sovereign Indian Lands and exempt from state law.