ULTIMATE FIGHTING MUST BE LICENSED BY STATE, JUDGE RULES
(From the Providence Journal-Bulletin, dated June 13th, 1996. By Mike Szostak.) Judge Richard J. Israel decides the event is a variation of wrestling, requiring SEG Sports to provide background information and pay a state tax of 5 percent of the gross receipts.
- Prompted by a Superior Court ruling yesterday, the promoter of the Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament scheduled for July 12 at the Providence Civic Center will apply for a wrestling license with the Department of Business Regulation's division of racing and athletics.
Robert Meyrowitz, CEO and president of Semaphore Entertainment Group and SEG Sports Inc. of New York, said yesterday that he will submit the necessary documents as a result of Richard J. Israel's decision that Ultimate Fighting is a form of wrestling more than martial arts and is subject to Rhode Island licensing statutes.
Meyrowitz and his lawyers had argued that Ultimate Fighting is not wrestling, boxing or kick-boxing, the three activities governed by state law. SEG Sports, its competitors, officials and physicians all must be licensed for UFC X to take place here next month. The licensing procedure requires a $25 filing fee, identification, qualifications, records and similar background information. SEG Sports also must agree to pay a state tax of 5 percent of the gross receipts.
According to Mario Forte, chief of investigations and hearings in the Division of Racing and Athletics, gross receipts are derived from the live gate plus revenue from pay-per-view. A crowd of 10,000 would generate a gate of about $300,000. The state's take would be $15,000. Pay-per-view could generate $5 million, depending on the number of subscribers. Forte will review the license application and make a recommendation to Barry G. Hittner, DBR director. He can modify or accept Forte's recommendation. If necessary, a racing and athletics board will conduct a hearing. Either side can appeal the panel's decision to Superior Court.
At the request of John Tarantino, a lawyer for Semaphore, Israel agreed to retain jurisdiction of the case during the licensing process. Tarantino expressed concern that delays might jeopardize the July 12 date. Tarantino also expressed reservations about a comment by Daniel C. Bryant, a DBR lawyer, in the complaint that he filed last month. Bryant noted that promoting a match without a license is grounds for denying an application. In the courtyard after the hearing, Asst. Atty. Gen. Jim Lee said, "They're going to get a fair hearing like anybody else." Asked whether he believed he would receive a fair hearing, Meyrowitz smiled and replied, "Do you?" Meyrowitz added that "if everybody works in good faith, we can work it out together" and that the licensing could be done "in a day or so." He said he planned to file the paperwork yesterday. As of midnight, Forte had not received anything.
Israel granted the state's request to stop Semaphore from promoting the event until it obtained a license. The particular language regarding promoting, announcing and advertising a wrestling exhibition does not address the sale of tickets. Yesterday afternoon, the Civic Center box office was still selling them, priced from $15 to $350. Israel ruled that "mixed match martial arts fighting"
, as Ultimate Fighting was described during the hearing, "is more like all other forms of wrestling in the world than anything else" and is not unique to exclude it from all other forms of wrestling. Ultimate Fighting, Israel said, "could be fairly and reasonably described by the word wrestling in common ordinary parlance." He said Ultimate Fighting is a 'highly specialized form of individual fighting which is commonly called wrestling."
Tarantino, mentioning the brief window of time SEG has to obtain a license, asked Israel to direct the state to approve the application if SEG files one. Israel denied the request. Israel also said, "This court in no way is acting as a censor of anybody's taste. The personal views of the court have no place here. The only question before the court is whether mixed match martial arts
is a form of wrestling subject to the statute."
Later, Meyrowitz said that elsewhere in the world, it's not, but that now "martial arts in Rhode Island is wrestling."