The UFC will run an event in New York this year for the first time since 1995. And it might not just be one.
UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said the promotion could hold two events in the state before the end of 2016 on a UFC media conference call Tuesday. Earlier in the day, the New York State Assembly passed the bill to lift the ban on MMA by a 113-25 vote. The legislation will now go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for it to be passed into law.
Once Cuomo signs the bill -- and he is expected to -- the New York State Athletic Commission has 120 days to draw up rules and regulations for mixed martial arts. MMA was banned in the state in 1997 and remained the only state to not have it legalized before Tuesday. The UFC has promised up to four events per year in New York over the next few years and Fertitta said he plans on honoring that.
"We are hopeful that we will be holding one, possibly two events [in New York] before the end of the year here in 2016," Fertitta said. ... "We're hopeful that we'll be able to get in at least two in before the end of the year."
Fertitta said the UFC is targeting the fourth quarter of the year for the promotion's first card in New York, specifically November or December. The first big event -- surely a pay-per-view -- will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, but Fertitta left the door open for another city in New York to get the actual first show in 21 years. That would likely be a Fight Night presentation on FOX Sports 1 or UFC Fight Pass.
The CEO mentioned upstate cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica as possibilities, adding that he had been to the arena in Utica himself. Fertitta said that as soon as the bill passed UFC officials were on the phone with executives from different arenas talking about dates.
"We're confident we'll be able to get dates that work, but a few things still need to play out before we're actually able to do it," Fertitta said.
Fertitta said that the goal will be to set the financial gate records at every arena in New York the UFC runs. That includes Madison Square Garden, which has housed some of the biggest boxing matches in history.
"I think it's gonna be an epic moment for the sport and for our company," Fertitta said. "Obviously, right now all of our focus is on trying to put together the matches for UFC 200, but when we go to New York and we eventually debut at Madison Square Garden, me and Dana [White] and the rest of the team are gonna be very focused on delivering for the fans. We're gonna put together the best available matches that we can. You'll have the biggest names that we can possibly put on, the biggest names that are available at the time. Believe me, we want to knock it out of the park and we want to deliver for New York in a big way."
Fertitta would not rule out former UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey returning at MSG. That would make for a huge event, especially considering Rousey's mainstream star power and New York being the center of media in the country and world.
"Of course," Fertitta said when asked if the UFC would consider that. "I haven't had any conversation with Ronda about it. But like I said before, when we go to New York, we want to come with a big event. And obviously any time Ronda Rousey fights that is clearly a big event. That's to be seen."
He made it clear that once that 120 days is up, there will be a lot of work to do to make the first big New York event happen.
"It's gonna be massive," Fertitta said. "And when you do massive events, it takes time ... there's gonna be a tremendous amount of promotion and a ton of marketing assets. We're gonna have to book the fights that make sense there, which will include Chris Weidman. It's gonna be big."