John McCain Breaks Up a Fight

The senator says extreme fighting should be banned. You got a problem with that? Eddie Goldman does.

Bachand says he spent $4,000 on the padded, rubber-coated, eight-foot-tall chain-link fence wrapped around a boxing ring. He was convinced of the event's safety.

"I'm not into legislating morality, like some other people may be," Bachand says, "and I saw a list of rules of regulations from the promoters that seemed to be pretty safety-conscious."

Then, just 10 days before the event, John McCain dropped a line to his friend Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, expressing his concern that the boxing commission may not have jurisdiction over this "repugnant" event because contestants were not paid.

"Unlike boxing or traditional martial arts contests," McCain wrote, "unrestricted or ultimate fighting competitions are not legitimate sporting contests. They pose a great risk of serious injury to the contestants, and present excessive brutality to the public as entertainment."

On the day he canceled the event, Bachand announced he did not want to take on the U.S. Senate. A week later, he had mellowed.

Bachand now tells New Times it was safety concerns that caused him to cancel the event. He was worried that the boxing commission or law enforcement authorities might try to shut down the fight in the middle of the show.

"My decision was made based on the fact that if they shut it down, I would have 2,600 beer-drinking, angry people in my venue, and it could have gotten very ugly and somebody could have gotten hurt. I wasn't as concerned for the participants as I was for the general public," Bachand says, adding that his decision cost him as much as $50,000.

Bachand and Gaffney say they never heard from McCain, or anyone in his office, regarding the safety precautions taken for the event. The men have no explanation as to why McCain intervened via a letter to Romley in their business venture.

"I'd like to know why," Gaffney says. "[McCain] has yet to give us answers."

Three days after the canceled Phoenix cage fight, Eddie Goldman muses via e-mail:

It is a classic case of abuse of power. It is about a brooding, obsessed Senator interfering in a local affair, somehow scaring off a local theater owner into canceling a sold-out show a few hours before the doors were to have opened, and issuing defamatory statements about a sport he knows next to nothing about.

It is about a Senator with a huge stake and fortune in Anheuser-Busch, the prime commercial sponsor of boxing, using his bully pulpit of the U.S. Senate to condemn--without one single fact, without even the pretense of an investigation--an entire genre of sports as posing "a great risk of serious injury to the contestants." Oh yes, these sports just HAPPEN to be the main competition to boxing on pay-per-view.

Eddie Goldman may have been shocked, but Arizonans remember John McCain's ties to Anheuser-Busch.

On his 1996 financial-disclosure form, McCain acknowledges owning between $1 million and $5 million in Anheuser-Busch Company stock, along with significant interests in Hensley and Company, his father-in-law's Anheuser-Busch distributorship.

His wife Cindy McCain is listed as an employee of Hensley and Company, at an annual salary listed mysteriously as "more than $1,000"; she also has a company car.

Anheuser-Busch and Hensley and Company have given generously to McCain's campaigns.

For example, Anheuser-Busch's political action committee donated $2,000 to McCain's initial Senate campaign in 1986, and another $2,000 in 1992.

During the 1995-96 reporting period--a nonelection year for McCain--Anheuser-Busch's PAC and individual employees contributed a total of $4,000 to McCain's campaign. Hensley and Company contributed $7,200.

So far, this election season, Anheuser-Busch's PAC has donated $1,000 to the McCain reelection effort.

It's no secret that Anheuser-Busch is a huge corporate sponsor of boxing. Just go to the Budweiser Web site and click on "boxing":

Budweiser, the King of Beers, is the long-time king of corporate boxing sponsorships, bringing fans the greatest bouts in history.

. . . Not limited to the high-profile championship bouts, Budweiser also sponsors pro boxing on the major sports networks and national televised cards on premium cable and pay-per-view television.

. . . Whether it's professional, amateur or Olympic boxing, Budweiser is almost always part of the action. Budweiser has gone from being involved in the sport of boxing to being a part of the bouts themselves. Budweiser's presence is now synonymous with boxing.

Okay, okay, we get it.

Goldman emphasizes how important that presence is to the brewer. "Beer is sold as an image," he says. "They spend a fortune to create the image of these things as being tough, being cool, being associated with their favorite athletes, and if I'm drinking a Budweiser, I'm like one of the tough guys."

Anheuser-Busch did not return calls seeking comment.

Has McCain ever let his personal business interests influence his official actions before? Could be. In 1992, the McCains owned more than $1 million worth of stock in Hensley and Company. At the same time, the Senate Commerce Committee, on which McCain sat, steadfastly refused to consider beverage-container-recycling legislation--legislation strongly opposed and lobbied against by the beverage industry, including Anheuser-Busch.

Lyman Markunas doesn't like boxing. He plants his feet on the floor and points to a spot a foot away. "You stand there. I stand here. We beat on each other."

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