Republican senator challenges labor union boss to MMA fight

Oklahoma GOP Senator and 3-0 professional MMA fighter Markwayne Mullin challenged a union leader to a cage fight.

By: Nate Wilcox | 1 month ago

U.S. Senator Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, holder of a 3-0 professional MMA record, has challenged Sean O’Brien, the general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to a “charity MMA match” per KOCO-TV, Oklahoma. Long-time Bloody Elbow readers might remember Mullin as the then US Congressman who was attempting to bring the Muhammad Ali Act to MMA.

Heated confrontation at hearing

The trouble started in March when O’Brien testified before the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee on which Mullin sits. Mullin was annoyed that the committee had not discussed “union intimidation” of workers who do not wish to join the union. CNN documented the exchange:

“I’m not afraid of physical confrontation, in fact sometimes I look forward to it. That’s not my problem,” he said. Mullin is a former mixed martial arts fighter.

He asked O’Brien his salary. “Well, I’m glad you asked that question,” began O’Brien, before Mullin cut him off by reading off his 2019 annual income. O’Brien and Mullin went back and forth on what UPS drivers make, with O’Brien saying Mullin’s numbers were “inaccurate.”

O’Brien told Mullin that his line of questioning was “out of line,” at which point Mullin replied, “Sir, you need to shut your mouth.”

“You’re gonna tell me to shut my mouth?” O’Brien fired back. “Tough guy. ‘I’m not afraid of physical confrontation.’”

O’Brien took it to Twitter

Having already graced the U.S. Capitol with their elevated debate, the two men took their differences to a fair and dignified forum: Twitter. O’Brien initially appeared angered that Mullin had misnamed him during a hearing so he indulged in some name calling and then followed up with a tweet showing Mullin standing on a lift while speaking at a podium.

Mullin issues challenge

Naturally Senator Mullin wasn’t going to take that sitting down. He tweeted right back:

O’Brien has until June 29 to accept the challenge.

More about Senator Mullin, R- MMA

Mullin has used his MMA experience as a foundation stone of his political brand. He started out as an angry plumbing business owner who blamed Oklahoma state bureaucrats for costing his business money with arbitrary regulation. His arguments got so much traction he decided to run for office. He was elected to the US Congress in 2012 and served five full terms before running for US Senate in a special election in January of this year.

Mullin beat a field of 13 candidates to win the Republican nomination and then beat Democratic nominee Kendra Horn in the general election with 61.8% of the vote. He became the first Native American in the Senate since Colorado’s Ben Nighthorse-Campbell retired in 2005.

It’s not clear the GOP establishment knows what to make of Mullin. This profile in The Spectator calls him “a stoic brawler” and “the most mercurial and unknown member of the US Senate.” Here’s what they had to say about this kerfuffle:

“His denunciation of the head of the Teamsters was brutal, like something out of a Scorsese movie, with the two men going quickly from challenging perspectives to challenging each other to take it outside. The bloated, bald Teamster looked like a joke in the moment, mocking Mullin as a “tough guy” — well yes, he is, he roped horses in rodeos and rode bucking broncos and won MMA matches and has been in more fights than he cares to recount.

But when the video started racking up views, Mullin didn’t lean into it — he asked his staff to post a single tweet clarifying that he’s not anti-union, he just hates the people who suck money out of workers to no good end. He is used to speaking in muscle and wrestling grips and the punishment of a hardscrabble life where there are lean horses too wild to break. What are tweets, even, to this life?”

Any hope Mullin will reintroduce the Ali Act for MMA?

According to UFC veteran Nate Quarry there is. He tweeted last year:

Here’s hoping Mullin is still interested in fighting for the rights of Mixed Martial Artists.

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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