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« | Home | »

California’s heavyweight politicians & neutering of AB2100

By Zach Arnold | May 4, 2012

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We have extensively covered the back-and-forth action that has resulted from amendments initially proposed by California Assemblyman Luis Alejo. The changes he proposed would give the California State Athletic Commission sweeping authority to review all MMA fighter contracts for fighters based in California. This push by Assemblyman Alejo was backed by numerous labor unions in the State.

When the UFC came to Sacramento on April 25th to talk to an Assembly committee about the bill, their presentation was shockingly tepid sans the sound bytes lobbyist Tim Lynch produced. Despite members of the Assembly panel admitting that they had not read the latest amendments that Assemblyman Alejo had prepared, the committee voted 5-3 to move the bill to the Appropriations committee.

Yesterday (Thursday), the Assemblyman continued amending the proposed provisions to AB2100 regarding MMA fighter contracts & CSAC oversight.

According to multiple sources overnight, both pro-AB2100 and anti-AB2100, the originally proposed amendments to AB2100 have been “gutted.” One source indicated to us last week that the California State Athletic Commission, which I previously stated wanted no part of what was being proposed with AB2100, would find a way to… alert… politicians over the cost of the bill implementation.

For all intents and purposes, what was proposed last week in regards to dramatic changes to AB2100 is essentially crippled.

California politics

There is a lot going on behind the scenes in regards to the various entanglement of political connections that are influencing the events that are currently ongoing with the California State Athletic Commission.

Governor Jerry Brown, the Democratic Governor of California, has been around politics forever. He essentially is the man in charge and can sway how events happen in both the state Senate and the Assembly. Outside of states like Vermont, New York, and Illinois, no state is more pro-Democrat than California. The consolidation of political power is substantial when you combine the political machine with support from unionized labor.

One of Governor Brown’s staunchest allies has been John Frierson, who is currently chairman of the California State Athletic Commission. To demonstrate the connections Mr. Frierson has with the Democratic Party on a state level, take a look at his old bio posted on the CSAC web site:

Chairman John Frierson has been a member of the Athletic Commission since 2001. A 26 year veteran of the Los Angeles Police and Sheriff’s Departments, he served as Senior Traffic Supervisor for the Police Department for 17 years. He’s been a member of the Los Angeles Transportation Commission since 2001, and is currently its Vice President. Chairman Frierson is an Executive Board Member of the California Democratic Party and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention from 1976 through 2000. He’s also the recipient of numerous Community Services Awards from both the City of Los Angeles and the California State Assembly.

To our knowledge, the Chairman is no longer with the LATC. However, it should be fully noted that in order to be appointed for the LATC, the mayor’s office in Los Angeles has to offer the appointment and then get the approval of the local city council. So, in other words, Mr. Frierson has plenty of clout.

This article has some insight on the Governor Brown/Chairman Frierson relationship:

“John Frierson, another church member and long time South Los Angeles community and political activist, shook his head. “I’ve known Brown for 40 years. He’s not the kind of guy who would like a red carpet.”

Chairman Frierson is currently a memeber of the California Democratic Party standing committee and has backed numerous Southern California politicians, including Congressman Brad Sherman of Los Angeles. Congressman Sherman recently gained media attention for his adept skills at financial investment.

The reason we are focusing on Chairman Frierson and his political clout here is because he’s got power. He has the ear of Governor Brown. It’s hard to imagine that the Chairman would do anything without the approval of the Governor because he would not want to embarrass him or bring negative political attention. Politically-speaking, there is a symbiotic relationship here.

The politics of MMA in California

Chairman Frierson raised some eyebrows when he was the only one on the CSAC to vote in favor of re-licensing boxer Antonio Margarito after Margarito got caught in a hand wrap scandal. Margarito’s attorney made sure to highlight Chairman Frierson’s vote in public comment:

“We are very disappointed in the ruling,” Petrocelli told ESPN.com. “We thought the evidence was indisputable and that the license should have been granted. Almost to a person, the commission expressed the view that Tony was honest and sincere and the chairman [John Frierson] voted to grant the license, and [Frierson] is only one of two commissioners who were on the commission for the revocation hearing.”

When Cris Cyborg asked the CSAC to reduce her steroid suspension, MMA Weekly categorized Chairman Frierson’s behavior in this manner:

“While Chairman John Frierson seemed like he was leaning towards granting Santos the reduction in her sentence, Dr. VanBuren Ross Lemons was having none of it.”

The Chairman voted in favor of licensing Josh Barnett to fight Daniel Cormier in a couple of weeks at HP Pavilion in San Jose.

“We need fights here in California,” said John Frierson, commission chairman. “We need good fighters and we need good people.”

“We need fights here in California.”

Does that sound like a man who is going to go along and politically support AB2100 as it was constituted last week? The UFC has stated that they won’t run shows in California if AB2100 passed with provisions mandating the CSAC review fighter contracts for items such as a champion’s clause regarding titleholders.

The Chairman said he wants fights. Governor Brown is in charge of a state that desperately needs revenue & good publicity.

There are other examples of the Chairman flexing his muscle. For starters, the CSAC recently voted in favor of Therapeutic Use Exemptions which would include TUEs for testosterone. I wrote a letter in opposition to TUEs for testosterone and, summarily, the commission voted in favor of setting up TUE guidelines. The DCA oversees the CSAC. In my opinion, it’s hard to imagine how the symbiotic political relationship between the Governor and the Chairman would not come into play in regards to how the DCA acts in the political decisions they make regarding the CSAC. In other words, I can’t see the DCA waging a political war against Governor Brown.

Chairman Frierson has also demonstrated his political power in a big way in regards to how amateur MMA is regulated in California. He supported the creation of Jeremy Lappen’s CAMO (California Mixed Martial Arts Organization) non-profit 501(c)(3) outfit (financial info here), which essentially has overtaken the regulation of Amateur MMA in the state.

Bottom line

Chairman Frierson has a rather interesting track record for discussion with recent CSAC votes, but no one can deny his close political relationship with the California Governor. Governor Brown is the top Democrat in California and Frierson remains a figure in the California Democratic Party. The CSAC voted to pass regulation to implement Therapeutic Use Exemptions, which means we could see more fighters who were afraid to fight in California come to the state and ask for a hall pass under the guise of hypogonadism. He voted for Antonio Margarito to get re-licensed in California. He considered giving Cris Cyborg a reduced suspension. He voted in favor of Josh Barnett getting a conditional license because he wants more fights in the state of California.

Public & private sector unions back the Democrat Party in a huge way in California. When Assemblyman Alejo proposed amendments for AB2100, his efforts were backed by union & labor political power. These efforts concerned the UFC enough to send the likes of Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Ronda Rousey, Tim Lynch, Marc Ratner, and Larry Epstein to Sacramento. In this regard, the union forces that are anti-UFC raised the stakes a little bit.

However, Governor Brown & Chairman Frierson are two incredibly powerful Democrats in California and they want business. It’s hard to imagine that organized labor would want to get into a political showdown with the Governor over legislation like AB2100. As soon as AB2100 moved out of one committee and into Appropriations, changes to gut the proposed amendments last week were made. Assemblyman Alejo has spent the last week doing the media rounds on various platforms (Eddie Goldman’s radio show, Josh Gross’s ESPN Radio show, Inside MMA with Kenny Rice) to make various proclamations. Yesterday’s amendment changes to AB2100 are an about-face from those previous proclamations.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 17 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

17 Responses to “California’s heavyweight politicians & neutering of AB2100”

  1. Steve4192 says:

    Have you seen the ‘gutted’ version of the amendment?

    What changes have been made?

    • Zach Arnold says:

      A ‘live’ version was put online on Thursday and a lot of the bill was marked out in red. I have serious doubts that what is left unmarked would survive a heated political challenge.

      What the version looks like by the time Assemblyman Alejo tries to get a meeting with the Commission in San Diego in June, probably pared down even further. The commission does not want a bill that costs them any money. How can you enforce & review contracts w/o paying for lawyers?

      The reason I bring up the ‘cost us no money’ aspect about CSAC because that was their rationale behind the Therapeutic Use Exemption proposed guidelines. The argument was made on behalf of the guidelines because it would supposedly not cost the commission any money since they would make the fighter pay the bill for medical testing/costs.

      The writing is on the wall. The bill needs a hearing in Appropriations this month to even survive, no matter what it looks like. The clock is ticking.

      Alejo’s not the major player here. Chairman Frierson is. We’ll going to learn more about him soon.

      I have to say one positive aspect about AB2100 is that I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the politics of the CSAC, the DCA, and who is backing whom to keep the ball rolling.

    • Rob Maysey says:

      NotTheFace is correct.

      If the anti-coercive provisions are diluted, this bill is useless.

  2. Weezy says:

    Welcome to big league politics. Too political for my taste.

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    Changes should not be coming from these individual states. As this has proven, they are prone to fail, and are often times not even in the best interest of the fighters long term.

    If change is to happen…. In terms of increased fighter pay…. And more of an equal level of power for the fighters…. It needs to happen from a fighters union. But that is up to the fighters themselves if they want this change.

    • Vadim says:

      I agree that only a fighter union can really work to change the issue of fighter pay and negotiation rights, but unless the union was backed by big financial and political figures within the fight business I cannot see it ever happening.

      • Vadim says:

        The UFC style contract is the industry standard at this point. Bellators contracts are about as restrictive as the UFC. KOTC has contracts that allow them to hold onto guys like Tony Lopez and Abel Cullum indefinitely.

        The Championship Fighting Alliance tried to keep Izequedro tied up longer when the UFC came calling. We all heard about M-1 trying to bully Alexander Sarnavsky into staying for several more years. People hate on the UFC’s massive advantage on the bargaining table, but its not like smaller leagues aren’t pulling the same garbage.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          The UFC is actually very fair to fighters when it comes to releasing them from their contracts (for the most part). It’s when these FEEDER leagues think they are more then a feeder league that there is problems.

          The power is in the champions. It champions are the ones who will have to rise up and buck White & Fertitta. Perhaps have the backing of a few retired fighters like a Couture, Ortiz, or other huge respected names.

          Imagine if tomorrow GSP, Jones, Couture, & Ortiz all said they hired a big time lawyer and have decided to form a union. It’s game on at that point and Zuffa would have no chance. But just like in Pro Wrestling, it seems like the big attractions never want to take that small short term hit for the benefit of the long term success.

          And I’m not saying Zuffa is some evil entity. I actually think overall they do mostly good and only once in a while cross the line. But a union is still a nice thing to balance the system.

        • Rob Maysey says:

          That is the whole point of these contracts–you need only be first. These contracts are designed to thwart competition.

          To even attempt to keep pace, the followers must have contracts that are at least as restrictive. . .

        • 45 Huddle says:

          So in order to create a checks and balances system in MMA…. You would rather see the fighters spread across 2 to 4 promoters?

          Doesn’t it make more sense to have all of the top talent in ONE organization, and then have a fighters union to create that same checks and balances?

          Boxing has the system you want, and it’s f#cking horrible….

  4. VinRokk says:

    This is a great article, offering extensive insight into AB2100 and the political climate in the UFC. As for contracts, yes, the UFC is the standard-bearer. They lock guys into exclusive contracts. That, my friends is not fair. They may release a fighter who requests it, but they don’t have to, that is the purpose of “exclusive” contracting. At least we see promos like Bellator and KOTC allowing their fighters to fight elsewhere. Zuffa is holding fighters back!

  5. theYiffer says:

    Given the fact that the People’s Republic of California has been bleeding money and business for the past decade, I’m not surprised by this horse and pony show. It’s election time, and I’m pretty sure AB2100 is being used by California Democrats to attract union money. That’s it.

    For those of you who want to micro-manage MMA, go petition Obama to have the U.S. government directly takeover MMA promotions like he did with the banks, GM, and Chrysler or create a bill with so-called “sweeping reforms” to have loving bureaucrats make running MMA show ridiculously expensive and difficult. Then you can get your unions, piss away billions more dollars we don’t have, and enjoy a couple of jollies (for about 15 seconds).

    What a lot of people forget are that fighters are independent contractors, not employees. I realize that most fighters get treated like employees with the numerous restrictions that get placed in their contracts, but ultimately fighters are responsible for what becomes of their own careers. He/She has to weigh weather or not joining promotion-X, with their contract, is best for their career or not. If the fighter doesn’t feel competent enough to make that call, then that’s where a good manager comes in. GSP, Jones, Couture, and Ortiz will never join forces to create a union because these guys treat their fighting careers serious, and use their success as leverage to earn more and to create brands that will last beyond their time in the cage. Why would they want to limit themselves long or short-term?

    Is what’s currently going on in MMA fair? Maybe not. But life’s not fair, and it never will be. Get over it! Everyone involved, promoters, fights, government officials, etc are all involved to make money, not serve some higher-calling. Some will get the shaft, others will have mediocre careers, and there will be the few that succeed beyond their wildest dreams. You will never find the perfect set of “checks and balances” to make the fight game seem fair. Even with the current set of regimes currently regulating MMA, bad things still happen, and stuff still slips through the cracks.

  6. [...] Friday morning, we posted an article discussing the neutering of AB2100, the proposed legislation (amendments) by Assemblyman Luis Alejo that would give the California [...]

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