The macho world of professional mixed-martial arts fighting and a grandfather from Vermont may not be an obvious match, but ultimate fighters could be a source of support for Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid.
Ronda Rousey, the MMA champion who has become a breakout star of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, endorsed Sen. Sanders Tuesday in an interview in Maxim magazine. She said she’s fed up with the two-party system and likes Sanders because he doesn’t take corporate money.
“I was so unimpressed with the whole presidential campaign that I picked whatever third party I saw, and I saw Roseanne and thought, ‘That’s awesome,’” Rousey said of her decision to vote for actress Roseanne Barr in 2012. “But I’m really pulling for Sanders this time. I hope it works out.”
It’s an anti-establishment sentiment not uncommon in the MMA community, and Rousey is not the only fighter interested in Sanders.
On Sunday, Sanders met in North Las Vegas with two MMA stars, Jon Fitch and Wanderlei Silva, to discuss legislation to end what they call the exploitation of fighters by event promoters like UFC. “We are professional athletes but we are laborers too,” Fitch said in a statement to MSNBC. “The Muhammad Ali Act to MMA is necessary to balance the scales between promoter and mixed martial artist and to restore integrity to the sport.”
The fighters want the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 extended to apply to their sport. The legislation prohibits the same company or individual from being an events promoter, sanctioning body, and manager all at once, which the MMA Fighters Association says can lead to fight rigging and corruption.
While they may not support Sanders’ presidential bid at the moment, Fitch and Silva left with the impression that Sanders had studied up on their issue and will support them. “With Senator Sanders’ support, we are one step closer to seeing it become a reality,” said Silva.
Alleged exploitation of MMA fighters has become a major issue for the UFC, with the most powerful union in Nevada recently announcing plans to try to organize the company’s fighters.
Meanwhile, Sanders’ recent call to end the federal prohibition on marijuana has also excited people in the MMA community, since many fighters suffering from chronic pain prefer marijuana over dependency-forming prescription drugs to help manage their pain, said a source in the industry who asked not to be named discussing the sensitive topic.
And on the day Sanders rallied with workers on Capitol Hill to push for a $15 minimum wage, Fitch joined fellow fighter Ryan Jimmo at a “Fight for 15” rally outside Las Vegas City Hall. Jimmo and Fitch filed a lawsuit against the UFC late last year, alleging antitrust violations and unfair compensation for fighters.
Fighting powerful employers on behalf of workers is a natural issue for Sanders. A Sanders spokesperson did not return a request for comment.