If there was one thing U.S. Sen. John McCain enjoyed, it was a good fight.
And not just in the political arena.
McCain, who died Saturday after a lengthy battle with brain cancer, sat ringside for many championship fights in Las Vegas. In 1998, he also introduced the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act which helped protect prizefighters from being exploited by unscrupulous promoters, and even the ones who meant well.
He even helped mixed martial arts go mainstream, though that was hardly his intention.
It was John McCain who infamously referred to MMA as “human cockfighting.”
“I was on a debate with him in 1997 on the Larry King television show,” recalled Marc Ratner, former executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission who would become a vice president with the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship. “Sen. McCain was on one side with me, and on the other side was the former owner of the UFC, a guy named Bob Meyrowitz, and a fighter named Ken Shamrock.
“At that time, MMA and UFC were advertising no-holds barred, anything goes, no rules. I had said on that show, ‘The way it’s structured now, we cannot regulate it in Nevada.’”
It might have been the quintessential case of turning a negative into a positive, a shot across the bow and a kick to the chin that would help the UFC grow into a regulated multibillion industry.
“Because of his comments, it made the sport aware,” Ratner said. “Our slogan was we run to regulation, not away from it. By him being negative, it helped us in a positive way.
“When I came over (to UFC), I had a talk with (McCain) and he was happy that we were going to start regulating it, with rules.”
In the late 90s Senator McCain and I debated Ken Shamrock and David Myerwitz about MMA on a Larry King TV Show and saw him throughout the years and again when he was re-elected for the Senate a great special man and will be missed. RIP Senator McCain
— Marc Ratner UFC (@MarcRatnerUFC) August 26, 2018
McCain vs. Arum
Renowned Las Vegas boxing promoter Bob Arum and John McCain didn’t see eye to eye on politics — Arum was a U.S. Department of Justice attorney during John Kennedy’s administration; McCain a conservative from Arizona — and on one memorable fight in Las Vegas at which the senator was sitting ringside.
“He was screaming at me after the Whitaker-De La Hoya fight,” Arum said about the 1997 welterweight showdown in which Oscar De La Hoya was awarded a unanimous decision over Pernell Whitaker at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I thought clearly De La Hoya won that fight. Not McCain. He was yelling — oh, Jesus. I fired back at him. You could do that with John. You could fire back at him. I said ‘You’re a senator. Stick to being a senator. You’re not a judge.’ ”
But Arum said when one went to the scorecards, McCain was a huge boxing fan who only wanted to make the sport better.
“He was really a big supporter of boxing. He loved boxing, and he was always looking to do what he could to help the sport,” Arum said. “Particularly the Muhammad Ali Act.”
— Greg Moore (@WritingMoore) August 26, 2018
Man of, for integrity
The Ali Act was enacted in 2000 to help protect the rights and welfare of fighters, aid state commissions in administering the sport and increase integrity within the fight game.
“Which was very good for boxing, very good for the boxers,” Arum said.
“The two senators in my time that were most influential in helping boxing and working with boxing were on opposite sides of the aisle: McCain and Harry Reid,” Arum added of the ex-Senate majority leader from Nevada. “Even though they didn’t get along on many issues, when it came to boxing they were aligned. You could always count on them for support.
“I remember (being at) many, many fights with both of them in Las Vegas.”
Arum said McCain would call for tickets and Arum would put him ringside, in the commission section. They were complimentary seats that had no monetary value, but Arum said McCain always insisted on paying.
“I would say, ‘Senator, you can’t pay for the tickets, because they’re not on the manifest.’ So what we did was we would add some money to his money, and we would let him pick the charity,” the promoter said.
Bob Arum would be the first to agree that Sen. John McCain loved a good fight — and a good argument afterward about who had won.
“Honorable guy,” Arum said. “Honorable man.”
Senator John McCain was a hero, a true warrior and I'm grateful to say a boxing fan with a purpose. He changed the sport with the "Ali Act" for the best, he also was a dear friend of Ukraine! R.I.P. Champ 🙏 pic.twitter.com/ss8EhLU8yE
— Klitschko (@Klitschko) August 26, 2018