There was no cage and no gloves, but things got pretty heated Thursday at a Congressional subcommittee meeting regarding MMA in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), himself a former fighter, grilled UFC executive Marc Ratner during a hearing discussing the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mullin, who authored the bill last year, called the UFC’s rankings and process to earn title shots “insulting to every professional athlete.”
Ratner, the UFC’s senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs, was among the witnesses called to speak in front of the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, which is part of the House’s Committee on Energy and Commerce.
At the the hearing, Ratner argued that MMA fighters and treated the same as boxers, which are protected under the Ali Act, which was enacted in 2000. Mullin shot back that maybe they are treated the same way when it comes to state athletic commission regulation, but not when it comes to the rankings system and how revenue is divided.
Mullin brought up Michael Bisping getting a UFC middleweight title shot against Luke Rockhold and then defending the belt against Dan Henderson and Georges St-Pierre. Neither Bisping, nor Henderson and GSP were the legitimate No. 1 contenders for the 185-pound belt at the time.
Mullin asked Ratner how the UFC’s rankings were decided and Ratner said they were voted on by a group of independent “sports writers.” Mullin said that Ratner did not mention that the UFC could remove a fighter from the rankings at will. The Congressman, who fought three times in MMA in 2006 and 2007, asked Ratner how the UFC decided title shots.
“On a competitive basis,” Ratner said. “We make the fight the fans want to see.”
Mullin said he wouldn’t argue with that. But he said that title shots were not fairly given, instead chosen by the UFC based on what is best for the promotion’s business, rather than with the integrity of the sport in mind.
“The Ali Act is the backstop for boxers,” Mullin said. “There is no backstop for MMA fighters. It’s take it or leave it. That’s why I say the UFC has become the Don King of MMA.’”
The Ali Act expansion to MMA would focus on things like an independent ranking system, titles owned by sanctioning bodies (or the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports), rather than promotions. Mullin said the UFC belt could not be looked at as a true world title unless the top contenders were fighting for it.
The Ali Act is also a protection for boxers from a financial standpoint, with promoters required to reveal potential revenue from events in negotiations. The criticism from those in the boxing community is that the Ali Act has rarely been enforced.
Multiple times during the hearing, Ratner said he could not speak on how the UFC makes some decisions, because he works on the regulatory side of things, dealing with commissions and other sanctioning bodies. In many ways, he was miscast for the hearing.
“I’m in the regulatory part of it, I’m not in that part of it,” Ratner said when asked about matchmaking.
UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, who has been vocally in favor of the Ali Act expanding to MMA; Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director Greg Sirb; and Dr. Kristen Dams-O’Connor, the director of the Brain Injury Research Center at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York; also testified at the hearing.
In order for the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act to become law, it would have to be voted through by the House and then the Senate. Then, it would come to the desk of President Donald Trump, who could sign it into law or veto it.
The bill has bipartisan support and sponsors from both sides of the aisle.