NEW YORK -- Inside one of the world's most famous sports arenas, the UFC for the first time clearly and publicly stated its intent to help promote mixed martial arts sanctioning in the state of New York and produce an event at Madison Square Garden as soon as possible.
While the Empire State has always been one of the promotion's biggest targets, it remains one of the last holdouts in the US; 44 of the 48 states with athletic commissions sanction MMA. With a renewed commitment to getting the sport regulated, the UFC hopes to run an event as soon as late 2011, and promised two events in the state within a year of sanctioning.
"I honestly think it's happening," said UFC president Dana White
, who made the announcement. "Look who's represented today. All the people we talk to, from politicians to Madison Square Garden and the list goes on and on. Was New York tougher than every other place? Absolutely. But I feel like we're right there. We've done a great job. Ten years of nothing but success and safety and continuing to grow the sport. I think we're right there in New York. We're ready to grow the sport and make it happen."
The ongoing push to pass legislation for the sport has until now mainly consisted of a lobbying effort as well as grassroots fan movement. But with Thursday's press conference, which was also attended by Zuffa co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta
, MSG president Scott O'Neil and UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar
, the UFC has made it clear that getting the state sanctioned is a front-burner issue.
Bolstering their case was the release of a financial impact study prepared by HR&A Advisors, a New York based consulting agency that found that the sanctioning of MMA in the state would generate $23 million in economic activity in the first year, an estimate which company spokesman Jamie Springer said was on the conservative side.
The financial incentive was the crux of the UFC's presentation, with the HR&A report showing an event at MSG would generate $11 million in activity, while a second event in Buffalo would generate about $5 million. The study also looked at non-UFC events, estimating that 70 yearly shows would generate another $7 million, allowing New York to retain some of the money going to nearby sanctioned states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Also on board for the press conference was New York state Assemblyman Dean Murray, an advocate of MMA who said he had already initiated talks with newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo to include regulation in the sport in the upcoming budget.
"I am not going to speak for the Governor, but he seems open to it," Murray said. "We sent him a letter and I talked to him personally. We asked that he include it in his budget proposal. We'll take a wait-and-see approach but I have to say I'm optimistic."
Murray angled the MMA debate as a way for the beleaguered state government, as well as its cities, to take some of the burden off taxpayers.
"We don't need more tax increases, we need to raise revenue," he said.
Even if MMA sanctioning gets placed in the governor's budget and passes through, there would still be a wait of between 90 and 120 days to allow the state athletic commission to set rules and procedures. Still, with legislative success, the state could see MMA events as early as the fall, a possibility which would please fans in New York and the northeast Tri-state region.
"I'm very humbled and appreciative of the interest UFC's show in Madison Square Garden," said O'Neil. "It's a tremendous opportunity to have one hell of an event. These are good guys and spectacular business, the best damn promoters in the world."
It's been just over 10 years since Zuffa took over the UFC, and the possibility of running events in New York seems stronger than ever. There's still a lot of work to be done from Zuffa, its lobbyists and most importantly, state legislators, but when it comes down to it, the fighters are ready to grace one of the world's best known stages.
"Being from Jersey, it's been a lifelong dream to fight here at the Garden," Edgar said. "It's the most famous arena in the world, and some of the biggest fights in boxing history were fought here. I just want to have that opportunity. Fighting in Jersey is great. It's my home state, but I don't think anything is quite like fighting here in New York City."