After a big debut on Fox this past weekend, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and mixed martial arts in general are looking to make another major move – this time in the court room.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Zuffa LLC., which owns the UFC, filed a lawsuit against the New York Attorney General and Manhattan’s District Attorney, arguing that New York’s ban of live MMA fights goes against freedom of expression.
Fighting over bans of MMA are nothing new for supporters of the sport, but what’s interesting about this lawsuit is that the freedom of expression argument is based upon comparing the mixed martial arts to other arts such as ballet, music and theater.
Zuffa was joined in the lawsuit by major stars of the sport, including Jon “Bones” Jones, Gina Carano, Frankie Edgar, and Matt Hamill. All are claiming that they have suffered and continue to suffer irreparable harm because of the ban. The suit also states that “MMA is clearly intended and understood as public entertainment, and as such, is expressive activity protected by the First Amendment.”
Zuffa’s lawyer, Barry Friedman, has stated that this is the first time professional athletes have ever claimed First Amendment rights for communicating with fans through a live event. Friedman says that calling it martial arts is no mistake, saying that MMA has artistry much similar to dancing.
While I’m all for having the MMA ban lifted from New York, I don’t know if I buy the comparison to dance and ballet. Yes, they are called mixed martial arts, but it feels like the “expression” that an MMA fighter does inside the ring is different than dancer or actor. Not because of the fighting, but because it’s competitive. Some MMA fights are downright ugly and boring. Just like some baseball games are error-ridden and terrible. That’s because it's two opposing sides competing to do what only one can, which is win – not express themselves through sport. They’re not coming together to make the audience think, or do something aesthetically pleasing, like a ballet or play usually intends. Expression may entertain, but something being entertaining doesn’t necessarily make it expression.