As an assignment for my Opinion Writing class, I have to chronicle something over the course of a week and write daily blog postings about it. Since I just finished writing a 5,000-word master's project on the battle to legalize mixed martial arts in New York, I figured I'd stay with that topic. It was supposed to be a big week for mixed martial arts. The UFC held their UFC 111 pay-per-view on Saturday, and have another event planned tonight. Also, on April 1, the New York State Assembly was set to vote on the budget which included legalization of MMA events as a way of generating revenue. Unfortunately, that will probably not happen now. Still, I figured it would be a good topic to deal with. So here we go..
UFC Takes Manhattan – Sort Of
Once decried as “human cock-fighting” and confined to high school gyms and underground clubs, mixed martial arts (MMA) has made a startling turnaround from its days as a glorified bar fight to one of the fastest growing sports in the world. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has led the way, selling out arenas around the United States, Canada, England, and Germany. The UFC recently debuted in Australia, and are preparing to make their very first appearance in Abu Dhabi in April.
Additionally, the UFC has been a force on pay-per-view. In 2009, 6 of the top 10 highest selling PPV’s were UFC events (including the #1 spot, which was held by July’s UFC 100 event).
On Saturday, New Yorkers got a chance to experience the UFC phenomenon firsthand. As long as they were willing to make the one-hour trip to Newark. Even though they were in New Jersey, it was clear that Dana White and the rest of the UFC were clearly in a New York state of mind. On Wednesday, the UFC held its pre-event press conference at Radio City Music Hall in New York City where White made it clear what his goal was.
"MSG is where we're eventually going, absolutely," said White during the press conference. "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."
Marc Ratner, a former executive director of the Nevada state athletic commission who currently serves as UFC vice-president of regulatory affairs is no less optimistic. “It’s not a matter of if it will pass, but when,” said Ratner. When he came aboard in 2006, MMA was sanctioned in 22 states. In four years, the number of states where MMA was sanctioned doubled to 44, however New York remains the biggest holdout. The “cherry on top of the dessert” as Ratner has been known to call it.
While plenty of other MMA companies, notably Bellator Fighting Championships, which recently inked a co-promotional deal with Madison Square Garden, would love to see the ban lifted in New York, Ratner made it clear that the UFC have done almost all of the heavy lifting. “All the other companies are deferring to us,” said Ratner. “They’re like Marc, take care of it and we’ll be happy to run events there.”
That doesn’t mean that the UFC wasn’t grateful for the folks in New Jersey for giving them a venue for their product. UFC 111 wasn’t the greatest UFC event in recent memory. Indeed, the show came off as being somewhat lackluster. Georges St. Pierre, the reigning UFC welterweight champion and one of the most popular figures in MMA today, retained his title in a dominant, albeit dull, wrestling match against an overwhelmed Dan Hardy. GSP, who once famously said “I was not impressed with your performance” to UFC legend and former welterweight champion Matt Hughes, was just as hard on himself after the match, even though he won all five rounds on each judge’s scorecard.
"I was not that pleased about my performance," said St-Pierre at the post-fight press conference. "I forgot the technical element of it. Sometimes those technical details make the difference. I wanted to go 100 percent. I trained to break. I want to finish him.”
Another amateur wrestling match broke out between former Purdue standout Jon Fitch and Ben Saunders, drawing jeers from the crowd. In fact, Fitch’s post-fight demand for a rematch with GSP (they last met in Aug. 2008 – GSP won that fight by, you guess it, a unanimous decision) drew even more groans.
Still, there were plenty of highlights on the night. Shane Carwin announced his arrival as a major star by knocking out former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir in the first round. Carwin, an engineer who trains part-time, won the UFC interim heavyweight title and should face current champion Brock Lesnar in the summer. New Jersey natives Jim Miller and Kurt “Batman” Pellegrino picked up impressive victories on their home turf.
And, of course, in the only real meter that counts, UFC 111 looked to be a huge financial success. According to initial figures, the show was a smash, as over 17,000 fans (many of who were, undoubtedly, coming from across the Hudson) attended the event, generating a $4 million live gate. For a state that is billions of dollars in the red, $4 million (obviously not all that money would go to the state, but the resulting economic activity in the area would have been theirs to keep) might seem like a drop in a bucket.
Then again, there’s a reason why beggars don’t hold out for credit cards or blank checks rather than accepting loose change.