After Fertitta bought UFC, he hired Marc Ratner, former Nevada State Athletic Commission executive officer, as his point man on government relations. "A brilliant move," said Gary Shaw, a rival MMA promoter.
Fertitta says he seeks uniform MMA safety rules in all states. Although a few fighters have suffered broken limbs in UFC fights, no one has died.
The Fertitta family has also spent heavily in campaign donations. Public records show Fertitta family members contributed more than $460,000 to candidates, including to presidential candidates Hilary Rodham Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani in New York -- where MMA remains prohibited by law -- and McCain.
Last year, Arizona approved MMA, and McCain discussed his opinion of the sport with ESPN: "They've cleaned it up . . . they're in compliance now with most of the things we've approved of."
Clearly, Fertitta's cash was critical to the sport's growth. Dozens of TV producers dismissed his offer to air the "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV series, which followed fighters battling each other to win a six-figure UFC contract.
Advertisers initially blew off the project. Then the 2005 fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar was one of the sport's most compelling slugfests and drew 2.6 million viewers. Fertitta said he and Viacom TV executives "cut a long-term deal that night on the back of a napkin."
Liddell, who became a mega-UFC star, said: "No way this happens without Lorenzo and his brother, going $40 million in the hole before it turned around."
As lucrative as MMA has become, there have been complaints by fighters, such as Ortiz and Couture, that the UFC could share more of its wealth and provide more blanket health coverage beyond fight-night insurance.
Unlike in boxing, in which promoters are obligated to disclose financial figures to a fighter and state commissions, MMA organizations can keep profits from pay-per-view sales private. Fertitta says UFC is generous with incentive bonuses and routinely pays for whatever medical attention a fighter injured in training requests.
"Quashing the competition as they've done hurts the fighters," said Shaw, whose rival Elite Xtreme Combat organization folded last year. "The UFC gives its fighters whatever it wants, and there's no outcry because the only person who can do that is a fighter. If he does, the next thing you know, he'll be on his way out."
Fertitta answers: "If you're a champion, you're a multimillionaire. If you're a contender, you're making hundreds of thousands."
Liddell said he has no complaints: "Look at where [UFC] was. I can remember fighting for $1,000. . . . These guys marketed it right, got it sanctioned, and look what's happened."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Main card for today's event at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. 7 p.m. PDT on pay-per-view.
>> Brock Lesnar (3-1)
vs. Frank Mir (12-3)
WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT:
>>>Georges St-Pierre (18-2)
vs. Thiago Alves (22-4)
>>>Jon Fitch (22-3)
vs. Paulo Thiago (11-0)
>>>Dan Henderson (24-7)
vs. Michael Bisping (18-1)
>>>Yoshihiro Akiyama (12-1)
vs. Alan Belcher (13-4)