What do Mixed Martial Arts and Voting Rights have in common?

For those of you living in a cave the last few years, one of the fastest growing sports in America is Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). This combat sport is most well-known by its largest promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which is the undisputed “big leagues.” This past Saturday, Chan Sung Jung (aka “Korean Zombie”) fought for the UFC featherweight title, sadly losing after a mid-fight shoulder injury. Later this month UFC lightweight champ Ben Henderson, a proud Korean-American, will defend his title in Milwaukee. For me, it’s thrilling to see fighters of Asian descent not just competing in the UFC, but actually excelling and serving as headline attractions. Based on my rough calculations, around 6% of all UFC fighters are of Asian descent. Given that Asian Americans constitute about 5.8% of the U.S. population; this clearly signals that Asian Americans have arrived in the UFC. For comparison, the percentage of Asian Americans elected to Congress is a little over 2%. Now, this healthy representation in the UFC ranks is partly due to the recent inclusion of lighter weight classes, but the opportunity still had to be seized by Asian fighters showing up and performing consistently. Asian Americans are a rapidly growing population, but it takes more than numbers to achieve the full measure of representation.

Today, Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Chicago and its Advancing Justice affiliates released our national voting rights report, Voices of Democracy: Asian Americans and Language Access during the 2012 Elections. The report summarizes the work of Advancing Justice and local community partners nationwide to poll monitor during the 2012 election. In brief, Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act guarantees certain limited-English proficient (LEP) voters language assistance such as translated written ballots and bilingual poll workers. By poll monitoring, we ensure election officials comply with these requirements and we collect data that can support local advocacy efforts for improvements. The very real impact is that many Asian Americans, over 30% who are LEP, gain meaningful access to our electoral process, often for the first time in their lives.

In November 2012, South Asian voters could vote using Hindi ballots in Cook County. Coincidentally, 2012 also saw Illinois elect its first Asian American to Congress, Tammy Duckworth, who defeated outspoken Tea Party leader Joe Walsh in the 8th Congressional District, which contains a good chunk of Cook County. We can’t say that new South Asian voters tipped the scale in Duckworth’s favor, but we do know that continuing to raise awareness in the community and diligently protecting our voting rights will create an environment that leads to increased voter turnout. To be clear, Asian American voters won’t make waves or achieve success just because of population trends. Like UFC Champion Ben Henderson, the Asian American community will need to continue to seize every opportunity. This means helping raise community awareness, voting and helping others vote on Election Day, and yes, having enough fighting spirit to support local poll monitoring efforts. The road to political progress and UFC glory is essentially the same one: you must commit to making sacrifices and show up when it counts most.

Question: Which one of these photos doesn’t fit with the others? 

 Chan Sung Jung (aka “Korean Zombie”)     

Ben “Smooth” Henderson,UFC Lightweight Champion  

 Advancing Justice poll monitors on Election Day fighting to protect voting rights


Answer: #1 Chan Sung Jung isn’t wearing a shirt (impressive chest paint job aside). Thanks for playing!

–Andy Kang, Advancing Justice—Chicago Legal Director