Hearing on Expansion of Ali Act gets heated

November 9, 2017

Testimony was heard before a Congressional Subcommittee on the possibility of expanding the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to combat sports.  Randy Couture, Marc Ratner, Greg Sirb and Dr. Kristen Dams-O’Connor testified at Thursday morning’s hearing.

The testimony centered around the business of MMA and the possible expansion of the Ali Act and at times became contentious especially when the bill’s sponsor, Oklahoma congressman Markwayne Mullin asked questions of the UFC’s Marc Ratner.

There were three central issues related to today’s hearing.  First, the issue of fighter rankings came up as Congressman Mullin grilled Ratner about the rankings and questioned how Georges St Pierre, a fighter that has been retired for 4 years, receive an immediate title shot against UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping.

h/t @jedigoodman

He also asked how Bisping’s first challenger to the title was an unranked Dan Henderson.

Another issue was that of coercive contracts which Randy Couture addressed the problem.  He noted that he was prevented to fight Fedor Emelianenko due to the fact he had an exclusive contract with the UFC and could not fight outside of the promotion.  Additionally, Pennsylvania Athletic Commissioner, a proponent of the proposed bill stated, “[i]f the fighter does not know how big the financial pie is then how is he to know how big of a piece of the pie he should bargain for?”  Although a proponent, he noted that there has been no legal case brought forward by the U.S. Attorney enforcing the current Ali Act.  While there have been lawsuits brought by fighters, the law allows for the government to enforce the act.  According to Sirb, this has not happened.

Also, the issue of head trauma was discussed as Dr. Kristen Dams-O’Connor testified about traumatic brain injury, or TBI.  Her research centers around understanding and improving long-term outcomes experienced by individuals who sustained TBI.  Her testimony concluded that despite the fact that not participating in sports such as MMA or football would greatly reduce the number of TBI cases, that is not the reality.  She seemed resigned to the conclusion that these sports provide a certain amount of reward despite the inherent risk.  She did distinguish the two sports, MMA and football, by noting that it is the goal in MMA to deliver TBI to your opponent as knocking out someone is a part of the sport whereas football players avoid sustaining a concussion during their athletic careers.

The hearing had members of congress ask questions.  The star of the hearing (in my opinion) was Illinois congresswoman Jan Schakowsky who stated that she attended last year’s hearing on MMA.  She did her researched and watched some fights.  Admittedly, it was too bloody for her but she was interested in the safety of the sport and supported the Ali Act’s passage.  Later in the hearing, she asked Dr. Dams-O’Connor informative questions about TBI and youth participation in MMA.

On the other spectrum of the “question asking” was New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone.  Pallone is a proponent of sports betting and utilized his time to ask questions related to sports betting.  Essentially, Pallone did not really care about the answers but used this stage to push his stance on sports betting.

But the main event of the hearing was Mullin going after UFC representative Marc Ratner.  The congressman was short with Ratner and often cutting him off from filibustering his limited time.  He was pointed with Ratner about the rankings system to which Ratner attempted to talk about how the fights were made for the fan’s benefit.  He queried whether Conor McGregor was stripped of his Featherweight title for lack of defending it.  Ratner noted that he had no say in the rankings and did not know.  The attack by Mullin on Ratner seemed calculated.  Mullin proclaimed that the UFC was the “Don King of MMA.”  This was meant as a pejorative swipe at the organization.

Payout Perspective:

We’ll have more on this interesting hearing from Thursday.  The hearing seemed to flesh out some of the basic issues of why expand the Ali Act to combat sports and the reasons why it is not needed.  It essentially boils down to a state’s right to govern versus federal oversight.  At the outset, Mullin seemed to stress the “interstate commerce” nature of MMA which would imply that the business crosses states lines and due to this, a federal law would be appropriate.  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

One Response to “Hearing on Expansion of Ali Act gets heated”

  1. Hastings1980 on November 10th, 2017 1:49 AM

    What a JOKE….. just Big government waning to get more revenue sources….

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