UFC makes another push for New York with Madison Square Garden event

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

On Monday, the UFC issued a news release that would have, in many circumstances, been cause for a joyous celebration for New York state's many fight fans:

Dana White (C) may be a step closer to hosting events at Madison Square Garden. (Getty)
Dana White (C) may be a step closer to hosting events at Madison Square Garden. (Getty)

It announced that on April 23, 2016, it will hold a show at Madison Square Garden.

The catch, of course, is that the event is incumbent upon receiving an injunction from a federal judge that bars state officials from enforcing their law that bans professional MMA.

Without the help of some federal judge, there's no fight card.

It's a strategic, symbolic move by the UFC – and a new tradition as UFC cards had been conditionally booked in NYC the past two years – with no better than a 50-50 likelihood of working.

I'd have loved to see them take it a step further, and gone forward with an event at Madison Square Garden in spite of the state's misguided law.

The UFC regulates itself in events around the world in which there is no official oversight of the sport. Why can't New York be the same?

New York legislators are well aware by now, after a decade of lobbying from UFC officials, that there are mixed martial arts cards on an almost weekly basis happening somewhere within the state's borders.

These are events in which there is no medical care for the athletes on site. Nor are there pre-fight medical requirements that would, say, prevent a pregnant woman or someone with a blood-borne virus from competing.

The state doesn't receive tax revenues from these underground shows it knows full well exists. Tourists don't travel from outside the state to attend them, nor do they stay in New York's hotels or patronize its restaurants.

MSG hosted the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, which featured pre-game performances from Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. (Getty)
MSG hosted the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, which featured pre-game performances from Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. (Getty)

This isn't to suggest that an MMA fight in the state is going to be an economic windfall for it the way that, say, convincing an automaker to build a plant within the state would.

Still, it's an easy law to pass at little or no cost to the state. It would satisfy the desires of thousands of its residents while not creating any long-term issues for the state.

Of course, the UFC has long put on fights in New Jersey. Led by the estimable Larry Hazard and Nick Lembo, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board is likely the top such body in the country.

It's easy for New York's many MMA fans to head to Newark, N.J., to be able to watch a UFC card in person. For some, it's easier to get to the Prudential Center in Newark than it is for them traveling to Madison Square Garden.

The cost of putting on events in New York is prohibitive, and it's not like the UFC or any other promoter would make a windfall in the state by promoting a handful of shows there annually.

It's symbolic. If the sport can't be legally held in the media capital of the world, then it somehow looks less than legitimate.

The sport is, of course, fully legitimate. Viacom, a media conglomerate whose corporate headquarters are in New York City, owns Bellator, the world's second-largest MMA promoter.

Bellator has been strangely quiet on this issue, though the corporate clout of Viacom would surely carry a lot of weight.

Since the UFC has made such a public cause of legalizing MMA in New York, it's possible Bellator's owners don't want to be assisting their rivals.

But it's not about an individual promoter. It's about the athletes and the fans who would patronize these events.

Would UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey be part of a historic NYC card? (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Would UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey be part of a historic NYC card? (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Lawrence Epstein, the UFC's chief operating officer, said in a statement, "We believe fight fans have waited long enough to experience live UFC events in the state of New York and we are thrilled to announce our first event at Madison Square Garden. Professional MMA is legal around the world and it is about time New York followed suit."

He is right, of course.

But he's also a realist. And after years of making a concerted effort and not even getting an up-or-down vote, Epstein also understands the odds.

When one side holds all the power, it's not a fair fight.

Sadly, it's not a matter of voting out one or two corrupt politicians. It's the whole system that is corrupt.

And that's a lot more difficult to defeat.

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