The Ultimate Fighting Championship has its own big chill on its hands _ New York’s continued freeze out of legalized mixed martial arts, preventing the dominant promotion from holding a card at Madison Square Garden, or any other arena, in the Empire State.
The Assembly has blocked legalization for years, basically putting an octagon around the state with a giant “Keep Out” sign affixed that not even Cain Velasquez could beat down.
Hey, even the Nets were welcomed back to New York. And who wants to watch them right now?
New York is the lone state running against the trend of holding regulated MMA cards. With it out of the fight game, the UFC has hunkered down in New Jersey and latched on to the NFL for Super exposure in perhaps the biggest weekend in sports. UFC will hold its Super Bowl weekend show at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., just a few miles from MetLife Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played Feb. 2.
The UFC is going to need a Hail Mary to score a date in New York.
“You can only keep it away for so long,” UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta said.
But New York has shunned MMA almost since the company’s inception, when UFC 12 in 1997 was booted after the event was denied sanctioning rights. Ever since, New York has locked out all MMA, even as UFC has morphed into a global phenomenon and become a staple on network television, suffocating the sport like a rear naked choke inside the cage.
“A lot of the old school people don’t understand it at all,” UFC 169 headliner Dominick Cruz said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not a good sport.”
Or a popular one.
Cruz will defend his bantamweight championship against Renan Barao. Jose Aldo puts his featherweight title on the line against Ricardo Lamas. And heavyweights Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem will slug it out on pay-per-view, with preliminary bouts on Fox Sports 1.
With all the media opportunities in and around Super Bowl week, holding the PPV card in the same state helps Fox and the UFC to work together and align themselves with the country’s biggest sporting event.
The Saturday night card will be held just days after the NFL’s Super Bowl media day also takes place at the Prudential Center. The opportunity is there for the UFC to attract even more fans, and maybe sway some New York lawmakers.
“The state of New York isn’t going to make or break our business,” Fertitta said. “We do business all over the world. We’re doing most major capitals in Europe, South America, Asia. Most big cities are bidding for us to come here because they know the economic impact we have on the cities. But at the end of the day, it just comes down to principle.”
The Senate in March approved a bill to legalize and regulate the combat sport that includes boxing, judo, wrestling and kickboxing. The Assembly has blocked legislation for years. However, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in March he now expected MMA to be legalized, but he wasn’t sure when.