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Let’s call UFC’s return to New York an unconscious nod to how far the sport has come

NEW YORK – Madison Square Garden is not an easy venue to book in the dead of fall, not with pro hockey and the New York Knickerbockers’ semi-pro basketball team and everything else, but the UFC managed to lock in Nov. 12 for its first event in the state since 1995.

It’s official!

And, as you’d expect from such shrewd calendar masters, UFC 205 will take place on the 23rd anniversary of UFC 1, which occurred on Nov. 12, 1993. It’s poetic, in a dark-to-light kind of way. UFC 1 being the old Wild West eight-man tournament, a spectacle of sick, lingering curiosity with limited rules that only took place in Colorado because there wasn’t a boxing commission in place to say no…all the way to New York, the last of the hold-outs, who finally prospected some gold at the confluence of the main and revenue streams in 2016.

On Thursday, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and other of Zuffa’s power players were in the MSG concourse watching Gov. Andrew Cuomo sign the bill to clear the way for the Octagon. I asked Mr. Fertitta how much thought went into aligning the date to coincide with UFC 1, and if -- as aforealluded -- it were a subtle nod to just how far the sport has come.

"Wow, no," Fertitta said. "We didn’t plan that. It wasn’t on purpose…but I guess it’s kind of cool that ended up that way? The thing about MSG is it’s very hard to get in."

It took 23 years for the UFC to evolve from the "two men enter, one man leaves" days to being sanctioned in all 50 states. It took Zuffa 15 years -- and a shackled Sheldon Silver -- to break down the barrier of New York, though it only started actively thawing out icy politicians on the idea since 2007.

The UFC as authored by Zuffa has broke through every barrier put in front of it. An official mascot for the UFC could easily be the Kool-Aid Man, crashing through walls and into pool parties already in progress.

Still, it’s a long-overdue accomplishment, being legal in every single state. It sort of removes the last of the old stigmas. It also catches progressive New York up to the times. And one of the men who made that possible was Marc Ratner, the UFC’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs who has been to Albany so many times on the UFC’s behalf that it’s become a second home to him.

Back in 1993, Ratner was just in his second year as the Executive Director of the Nevada Athletic Commission. If anybody could speak to the exotic 23-year odyssey from Nov. 12, 1993 to Nov. 12, 2006, from spectacle to sport, from Beginning, to Dark Ages, to Bonnar-Griffin, to MSG, it was him.

He was also in New York on Thursday, soaking in the moment. I asked him to expound on the alignment of dates, and if such a celebration could be viewed through a dual-lens, both for getting the Octagon into the fight game Mecca of MSG and for his long crusade to educate no-nothings on the facts.

"What? Huh, I did not know that," he said. "Wow. No, I really did not know that. So UFC 1 was on Nov. 12?"

Look, the bottom line is there’s some poetry in the dates, damnit. There is. When the sport started it was a $50,000 tough-man pyramid scheme with sumo wrestlers and unsavory sorts like The Hague’s Gerard Gordeau! These days it’s sanctioned everywhere, including Gotham, where Ronda Rousey -- the sport’s first truly transcendent mega-star -- was in town standing next to Cuomo as he signed the damn bill! This is a 23-year timeline from the fringe to the center of the universe! This anniversary date matters! It has to!

"It certainly is a coincidence," Ratner said.

Of course, that’s another way of looking at it.

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