Saturday, September 24, 2011

UFC in Trouble? And Why?

Over the years, UFC has become the biggest (and more lucrative!) sport in Las Vegas... And the fastest growing sport in the world. More and more fans are tuning into games, attending games, buying merchandise, and even aspiring to become MMA fighters themselves.

However, UFC's rise hasn't been without controversy.

And now, there's a new challenger in the ring ready to take on (the owners of) UFC.

Culinary Union Local 226 set up a website recently at that details the foul-mouthed tirades of Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Here’s quoting White berating some poor schoolyard schlub: “Whoever gave you that quote is a (anatomical expletive) and a (homophobic slur with a modifying expletive).”

Culinary asks, “Can you imagine NBA Commissioner David Stern or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talking like this?”

I like UFC and realize it’s a nice amphetaminic boost for our deathbed economy. But the question put to White is a reasonable one, especially given UFC’s desire for mainstream legitimacy. The Vince McMahon shtick is juvenile.

Another reasonable question, though, from UFC fans: What union? In case you don’t know the history here: It’s no surprise that the big hotel union that represents more than 50,000 workers on the Strip would be sticking the shiv in the side of UFC, which is owned by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who in turn own a controlling stake in Station Casinos.

Culinary has unsuccessfully been trying to unionize Station’s many valley casinos for years, with the fight intensifying in recent years, to include high-stakes federal litigation.

Especially in the last three years, players, coaches, and team owners in other sports have faced a whole lot of heat for allowing homophobia, misogyny, racism, and other forms of discrimination in their respective sports. Has UFC really faced that kind of scrutiny yet, especially considering what Dana White seems to get away with saying?

Of course, this isn't the real reason why Culinary 226 is now going after UFC. This is.

Culinary has been working on this aggressive campaign to unionize Station Casinos for decades, yet until recently it seemed like it was failing to gain any traction. But when Station went bankrupt, Culinary saw opportunity. And as Station continues to pile up the federal charges of workers' rights violations, Culinary has made some hard kicks. And now that the Fertittas have a new billion dollar empire with UFC, which is part of a sport that's already been swirling around plenty of controversy, Culinary is aiming for the ultimate knockout punch.

Of course, Dana White is now complaining that Culinary is "just trying to make this thing look bad and trying to hurt the Fertittas by lobbying against the UFC and mixed martial arts". Well, duh! Both Culinary and the Fertittas have long used this tactic against each other, and against other adversaries. When Station went bankrupt, the Fertittas pressured creditors into allowing them (and a posse of banks, such as Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan Chase) a leveraged buyout of Station, even though a more credible (pun intended?) suitor had emerged in Boyd Gaming. Station pummeled those creditors that opposed the leveraged buyout and/or supported the Boyd deal and used all the legal tricks in the book to get the Nevada bankruptcy courts to agree to something that probably no other court in America would green light.

And most recently, Station joined forces with the Nevada Resort Association to convince the Clark County Commission that Dotty's somehow became the greatest threat ever seen to Nevada's way of life. Why? Well, Dotty's had grown exponentially all over the valley as locals were coming to enjoy the smoky, intimate, slot experience that seemed to lure customers away from Station Casinos. And of course, it helped that Dotty's had earned very little sympathy by local lawmakers by operating in such a dark gray legal cloud that allowed Dotty's to straddle the fence between "casino" and "bar", and prey after gambling addicts. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the Clark County Commission had to do something about "The Dotty's Loophole", but what ultimately emerged smelled rotten in that it looked less like a fair solution to legal discrepancies over "incidental gaming licenses", and more like yet another political wet kiss to the Nevada Resort Association and Station.

So do Dana White and the Fertittas really want to criticize Culinary for engaging in activities that the Fertittas themselves have mastered to get their way whenever Station is in trouble?

I'll be honest. I like MMA, and UFC really fascinates me. I see the intense skill involved, and I realize there's more to it than the brutality that first meets the eye. However, I also believe it's more than fair for Culinary to hit the Fertittas on UFC's more controversial aspects to shame them into improving Station Casinos' workplace. As we've seen above, the Fertittas have never shied away from hitting below the belt to preserve their precious assets. So what gives them the right to change the rules of the fight when they face a more experienced opponent in Culinary 226?

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