Nanny State

Government's Ongoing Effort to Shutter Mixed Martial Arts

How federal, state, and local authorities have tried, and failed, to shut down MMA.


Contributing Editor Kerry Howley is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her first book, Thrown (Sarabande), follows the lives of two professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters over the course of several years. Here Howley lists three ways that state authorities have tried, and failed, to shut down the sport:

  1. By refusing permission: Throughout the '90s, shows were effectively banned when local athletic commissions refused to regulate them. Promoters jumped state to state to avoid being shut down. It was, according to Ultimate Fighting Championship co-creator Bob Meyrowitz, "like being in a traveling circus."
  2. By switching off the TV: In 1997, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who apparently prefers his violence state-sponsored, used his sway as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee to pressure cable television to refuse to air the events.
  3. By telling stories: Politicians regularly claimed that mixed martial arts involved no rules and thus no referee. McCain called it "human cockfighting." Rudy Giuliani called it "disgusting," "horrible," and "brutalizing." Both men are avowed fans of boxing, which evidence suggests is more conducive to brain injury. Years later, public attention has turned to the bodily damage caused by a kind of brutal display no politician would dare oppose: all-American football.