Bizarre stories about former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich seem to be plentiful this month, and the Chicago Sun-Times' story today about the state's legalization of the Ultimate Fighting Championship is about as strange as it gets: Blago apparently pushed UFC legislation through to impress Rahm Emanuel's brother.
Citing Blago's book "The Governor," Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney discusses how the classic Illinois cocktail of political clout and campaign cash led to the sport's legalization. UFC was initially banned in Illinois as its popularity spread throughout the country. The Sun-Times reports:
Blagojevich writes of his distaste for the sport, which takes place in an octagonal steel cage and combines boxing, karate, jiu-jitsu and other martial arts. But he says he put that distaste aside and signed the legislation legalizing mixed martial arts to score points with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's brother, Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel, the real-life model for the character Ari Gold in the HBO series "Entourage."
The Endeavor Talent Agency, which Ari Emanuel founded, listed UFC's owner Zuffa LLC, as a client. Getting the sport legal in Illinois meant serious cash--which, of course, Blagojevich leveraged. Zuffa contributed $7,500 in campaign money to the ex governor while he was working to get the House on board, which does not count the money thrown to other supporters of UFC in the state:
From the point the legislation was introduced until a few weeks after it took effect June 1, 2008, Zuffa made a total of $30,100 in campaign contributions to 23 state officeholders.
The bill was ultimately passed, and UFC's October 2008 event at Allstate Arena in Rosemont drew a near sold out crowd, the Sun-Times reports.
A spokeswoman for Rahm Emanuel, along with pretty much every other elected official mentioned in the article, did not return McKinney's calls for comment.
Read the whole story here.