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UFC Makes Big Splash in New York City

NEW YORK -- Frank Sinatra sang that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, but for the UFC, it was exactly the opposite; they needed to make it everywhere else before New York would give them a fair shake.

Mission accomplished on the first part of the equation, the UFC returned to Manhattan to hype up this weekend's UFC 111, and suffice it to say, it went much better than the first visit.

The story -- likely mythologized over time -- goes that the first time the UFC under the new Zuffa ownership group ran a press conference in New York, only two reporters showed up. One of them asked Tito Ortiz a question in Spanish, and when Ortiz told them he didn't speak the language, the reporters got up and left.

It may have taken a decade, but getting attention is no longer a difficulty, even in The City That Never Sleeps, and even in a state that still has yet to regulate and sanction MMA.

While the Empire State weighs its MMA future, the tide seems to be shifting in the sport's favor. Madison Square Garden has voiced a strong interest in hosting a show; several high-profile state government officials are pro-MMA legislation; and fiscal issues make revenue-producing events quite appealing for a state that like many others, is dealing with countless economic challenges.

This time around, the UFC held its press conference in one of the city's premier showcases, Radio City Music Hall, and along for the ride were mainstream outlets like The Associated Press, The New York Post, and ESPN. In perfect synergy, the news conference featured one of the sport's only athletes to crack the mainstream: welterweight champion, Georges St. Pierre.

St. Pierre and his opponent Dan Hardy gave the company perhaps its most stylish faceoff ever. Both men wearing suits, they squared off for photographers, with Hardy flashing a confident smile that belied his 8-to-1 underdog status.

Indeed, 72 hours from the biggest night of his life, Hardy seems about as relaxed as a man soon to face welterweight king can possibly be. Wearing a dapper gray suit with a black shirt and black tie to go with his trademark red mohawk, he was ready for his Manhattan close-up.

"If you're going to fight here, you've got to raise your game," he said with a smile on his face. "That's why I bought this nice suit. I'm ready to go."

Taking advantage of the New York media to send its message of financial power, the UFC already announced that the event is a sellout, that over 17,000 fans will fill the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Saturday night, totaling an expected gate of over $4 million.

But at least for one afternoon, all eyes were on New York as the UFC flexed its muscle in the media capital.

"MSG is where we're eventually going, absolutely," Dana White said. "We're going to get New York done, then we're going to go to MSG and put on good fights. I want to bring big fights back to Madison Square Garden."

Even Frank Mir, who was born and raised in Las Vegas, gave the region credit for being a better fight market than some believe.

"I'm excited to be here," he said. "Fans on the east coast are great. To be honest, they have some of the best fan base for the sport right here."

St. Pierre, meanwhile, noted that he spends about 30 percent of his average training camp in Manhattan, spending most of that time with his Muay Thai coach Phil Nurse at The Wat.

"It feels like I'm fighting in my second home," he said.

Notoriously absent from the dais was co-main event participant Shane Carwin, who couldn't make it back to Manhattan in time for the press conference after traveling to Long Island to finish his necessary medical paperwork for the fight. It was the only blip in an otherwise perfect day for the UFC, at least from a public relations standpoint.

"Yeah, part of it was to let them know how big it would be if all of this would be in MSG," White said, a knowing smile crossing his face.

Basking in the attention, White stayed on the stage at Radio City until every last fan autograph was signed, every last picture was taken, and to finish it off, he literally gave one fan the shirt off his back before calling it a day.

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