When Marc Ratner was a boy, he would sometimes ride his bike to Las Vegas hotels to watch big-time boxers prepare for the most major fights. Sometimes it cost a buck to get in, and it planted a seed for loving the sport in the young Ratner.
Later, in high school, he started attending local boxing shows, and he became known in the local fighting community.
After he was already forming a varied career in athletic officiating at the high school and college levels, Ratner became an inspector for the Nevada Athletic Commission. That was 1984, and within eight years, he became the commission’s executive director.
In his 25-year regulating career, Ratner has become one of the most respected figures in ensuring safety and proper operation of some of the world’s most vicious events. Now, the 65-year-old is using that power to help make the UFC – and, with it, MMA – more legitimate one state at a time.
Since becoming the UFC’s vice president of regulatory and government affairs in May 2006, Ratner has moved the organization to once seemingly unreachable levels of respectability. New states (including Massachusetts just this past Monday) have begun regulating the sport, largely because of Ratner’s involvement.
It was Ratner who, in 2001, provided the first major boost to MMA when he himself began regulating it in Nevada, seen as the unquestioned leader in combat uprightness. Now he’s in the UFC fold, which has admittedly created some uncomfortable situations with friends in boxing.
It has also created a new era of growth for the UFC, which has skyrocketed in Ratner’s three and a half years of service.
It’s all been done, in part, by a guy who was just looking to stay involved in athletics coming out of college, so he got a referee’s license instead of playing evening softball.
“The best analogy is that in real life I have two kids, and in my sporting life, I also have two,” Ratner said. “My older child is boxing, my younger child is mixed-martial-arts, and I love them both.”
A boxing authority
Ratner had been a backup right fielder (“if there is such a thing”) at the University of Nevada and a long jumper and track participant at the University of Nevada-Reno when he graduated and starting looking for something to do.
“Unless you were a great athlete,” Ratner said, “there was slow-pitch softball or city-league basketball.”
Ratner noticed an ad in the local paper. It asked, “Do you yell at officials?” Well, who doesn’t? It asked, “Do you think you can do better?” So Ratner went out to Las Vegas High School, signed the papers and became an official, a passion that has continued for 40-some years.
Friends in the boxing community knew he was an official, so by the mid-80s, they convinced him to enter their world as an inspector. His job included overseeing every aspect of a fight one could imagine: medical checks, insurance, meetings with hotel, police and security personnel, weigh-ins, licensing.
In 1992, Ratner filled the position of executive director at the Nevada Athletic Commission and continued a career that put him at the forefront of the boxing-vs.-MMA argument that was soon coming. In 1995, he testified in front of Congress about boxing and he was asked if he would allow this new form for no-holds-barred fighting in his state.
“You can’t have anything with no rules,” Ratner told the panel.
Later, he appeared on “Larry King Live” with Sen. John McCain opposite Ken Shamrock and Bob Meyrowitz, and reiterated that Nevada would not host a sport that was not regulated.
Then, in late 2000, Ratner was proactive in teaming with others in the fighting world to write the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, which established, among other things, unified rules for rounds, judging and scoring. New Jersey first adopted the rules in 2000, but Nevada soon followed.
“We needed there to be some kind of structure,” Ratner said. “That was the missing piece.”
A central MMA figure
For his first regulated MMA event in Nevada – UFC 33 on Sept. 28, 2001, appropriately tagged “Victory in Vegas” – Ratner showed up to the Mandalay Bay Events Center at his usual time, about 4 p.m. for a 5 p.m. start.
“There was this huge line,” Ratner said. “To this day, I’ve never seen a line like that in boxing for the first fight.”
It was his first MMA event up-close, and Ratner was drawn to many of the factors that have made the sport wildly popular around the globe.
“I saw the athletic ability,” Ratner said. “I was stunned by how athletic most of the guys were. Plus you had the energy of the crowd. With the music, the show, it was entertaining.”
In all of the cards with which Ratner has been involved, the most severe injury has been a broken arm suffered by Tim Silvia.
“I’m sorry to say,” Ratner said, “that I can’t say that for boxing.”
It was an interesting pair for Ratner, enjoying both boxing and MMA. The sports, of course, have often been at odds over what is the proper way to handle an event and which is more telling of a competitor’s toughness and skill.
Friends in boxing call Ratner crazy at times. They tell him he has joined a fad sport that won’t last.
But to know Ratner is to realize he’s a bastion of commitment. He has been a Division I college football referee in the Big West, Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences, an official in bowl games, and he continues to referee high school basketball through this very season. He has run the clock at UNLV basketball games for years.
He has been steady in both his commitment to boxing and to MMA. It’s just that now his paychecks come from MMA money, and he doesn’t regret that at all, he said.
In fact, as much as the sport has grown, he still sees how far it can go. There are, he notes, six more states with athletic commissions that won’t allow the sport, perhaps most notably New York. His job is to work with those leaders, share his experiences, and tell them the sport is no more dangerous than others that occur regularly within the borders.
“It’s all about education,” Ratner said. “We go into some places that still think the sport is the Wild Wild West. There are three of us – two other guys go with me who are lawyers – and we work with the commissions.”
Some, in fact, see Ratner’s move to the UFC as one of the most significant victories in its history, and he remains a central figure in the overall growth of MMA into the unknown future.
“There’s just an energy here,” Ratner said of the UFC. “It’s been a wonderful experience, but there’s still more work to do.”
-Many MMA fans don’t know who this guy is or ever knew he existed, myself included until this article. MMA fans from around the world owe many thanks to Ratner’s dedication and hard work bringing MMA from it’s rough roots to where it stands now.