Opinion: MMA and Debt Collecting
By Jesse Heitz
Certainly, readers here at Full Contact Fighter have seen an abundance of what could be considered mind-boggling stories. We’ve read stories that seem so ridiculous and logic-defying that they couldn’t possibly be true. On the other hand, we’ve read stories that make our blood boil to an extent that we wish such stories weren’t true. The story I’ll focus on today finds itself closer to the latter end of the spectrum.
In Brooklyn, New York, a poker game operator, perhaps best referred to as a “bookie” of sorts was sentenced to 6 months in jail for his strong-arm tactics concerning his gambling debtors. Now, you might ask what this has to do with MMA, well that’s the interesting part. The bookie, Kirill Rapoport, hired two MMA fighters to serve as muscle for debt collection.
The saga has been chronicled in a Daily News article. A particularly informative passage from the article is as follows,
“In a pre-sentence letter, prosecutors said FBI agents saw Rapoport, an associate and two MMA fighters show up at the home of a bettor who later told authorities that he owed $35,000 to $40,000 in poker debts.”
“The FBI, who had been monitoring Rapoport, was so concerned about the bettor being harmed that it had the NYPD intervene in the meeting by claiming cops were checking a report of someone smoking marijuana in the vicinity.”
Federal Judge Jesse Furman, the presiding magistrate, stated, “There is no question in my mind that the reason to have two mixed martial arts fighters with you is to send an unmistakable message.”
Surprisingly my outrage with this story doesn’t lie in these supposed MMA fighters participating in criminal activity. I’d be a fool to think that thugs cared one iota about the blowback their actions could have on the sport.
It’s not even too frustrating that it’s MMA fighters, although it’s worth keeping in mind that we have no information on these alleged “MMA fighters”. Undoubtedly hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans have undergone some sort of martial arts training that could thereby be used as a means to label someone as a mixed martial artist. It’s simply unrealistic to think that everyone who partakes in such training will be an inherently good person and upstanding citizen.
Really, this is no different than amateur boxers finding careers in shady criminal undertakings, Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen being a prominent example. So I can’t take issue with MMA fighters taking part in this crime ring. No, I take issue with the way in which this story was reported. For crying out loud the picture directly beneath the headline was of Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort. Unless they’re the two “fighters” in question, such an image shouldn’t be used. Nor should the UFC, or any promotion, be implicated if it was in no way connected to this crime.
More importantly, would we have seen this story if the “fighters” in question had been say, boxers or kick boxers? My guess is probably not. It seems that at times certain elements of the media—not even counting the sport’s critics, never miss an opportunity, no matter how weak the connection is, to lambast MMA. Such tenuous topics must make for juicy reporting.