Sheldon Silver's Woes May Pave Way for UFC in New York

UFC 167 welterweight challenger Georges St. Pierre, left, and welterweight champion Johny Hendricks pose for photographs with UFC President Dana White during the official UFC 167 weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Since 2013, New York state has been the lone holdout against allowing mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions such as those organized by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the most successful of the companies promoting the sport.

The company, which helped build the popularity of MMA worldwide, has long been at the forefront of a feud over legalizing the sport in New York, a major market. The state Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, refused to put to the question to a vote.

Now, however the UFC has renewed hope that the sport could punch and kick its way into New York. On January 22, Silver was arrested on charges of corruption linked to payments he allegedly received in exchange for reduced real estate taxes, and soon afterward he resigned as speaker.

"We are optimistic that in 2015 New York will join the 49 other states and most countries around the world in legalizing and regulating the fastest growing sport in the world," a UFC spokesman told Newsweek. "Just as the state Senate has passed this bill for the last five years with overwhelming bipartisan support, we know that there is overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill in the Assembly. We are very hopeful that this is finally the year."

MMA fighting has been banned in New York since 1997, and it has remained so in large part because Silver blocked it. His stance is seen to be closely tied to that of an organization that is entirely unrelated to New York: the Las Vegas Culinary Union Local 226.

In April 2013, The Wall Street Journal determined that the union has had a long-standing issue with Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, the co-owners of the UFC, and that Silver had aligned with the union. Kevin Iole at Yahoo Sports even accused Silver of doing the union's "bidding." Silver has not commented on the matter, and the union hung up on a reporter calling for comment.

The Fertittas found themselves and their multimillion-dollar MMA company at odds with the union and Silver because of an entirely separate business: their casinos. The Fertittas own Station Casinos, a business that is not unionized, much to the frustration of the union in Las Vegas.

The Fertittas' refusal to work with Local 226 at their casinos may have led the union to align with Silver, who "does not personally approve of MMA," to ensure the sport couldn't enter New York. Later in 2013, Silver publicly claimed "there simply has not been enough support in the Democrat conference to bring it to a vote." But the UFC believed it would have received 120 of 150 votes in favor of legalization.

The UFC has long been frustrated with Silver's actions regarding MMA. Dana White, president of the UFC, has been particularly vocal:

If MMA does gain legal status, organizers believe New York state could host as many as 50 fights a year, including headliners at New York City's Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn's Barclays Center. Backers estimate that legalized MMA fighting could bring over $23 million a year to the state's economy, as well as create hundreds of jobs.