The events of March 22, 2016, in New York should serve to remind us all of a few things: MMA is still an evolutionary sport at just 23 years old, marketing can go horribly wrong and we should always be aware of how the sport can be perceived from the outside.
Politicians have long memories and the tongue-in-cheek campaigns of the early days like “two men enter – one man leaves” were simply ill-judged marketing slogans that had a devastatingly powerful and negative effect on the naysayers. Just look at some of the procrustean views of the New York Assembly members we witnessed. “Gore” and “extreme violence” were just two terms that popped up.
New York has become the 50th – and final – state to legalize professional mixed martial arts. There, I’ve written it. Hallelujah. The state assembly voted in favor of the motion following the state senate’s decision to pass it for an seventh consecutive year. Yes, seventh.
The tipping point was New York governor Andrew Cuomo calling for the sport to be legalized in his budget, in which he cited the revenue from MMA that would enhance business in the Empire State. It will be a flourishing financial partnership with its economy and athletic commission.
How much the preliminary injunction against the ban in January helped – which was brought against NY State by the UFC so that a proposed event could be held at Madison Square Garden this April – we shall never know. But this piece of work has been about pulling a heavy cart uphill for a long marathon.
For that, the UFC’s vice president of regulatory affairs, Marc Ratner, needs a heavy pat on the back for his consistency and determination. And UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, indeed, who by his poker-faced standards might as well have been doing cartwheels while singing The Twist by Chubby Checker when the good news arrived.
The last step, which ought to be a formality, is for Cuomo to push the bill forward for it to be signed into law. There were 120 days to adopt the guidelines, which you can only assume have already been chipped into stone by those behind this groundbreaking process. Job done. Change is slow in some spheres, but the anticipation will create incredible nights ahead.
The presence of the UFC in New York City really can’t be overstated, and regardless of whether Sin City is the fight capital of the world, the Big Apple is the media capital of the United States, offering an opportunity for ‘supercards’ on the Eastern front. Manhattan’s iconic Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center will be irresistible for huge shows. We are truly in for a treat as fans, observers and analysts.
The market it now opens up is significant. Symbolically and financially. Forbes dipped into the news and suggests the UFC’s worth will grow to a cool $3 billion, up potentially by $1 billion.
It’s another significant moment for Fertitta and Lawrence Epstein, UFC senior executive vice president and COO. Like the Fox Sports deal, like the Reebok deal. On the UFC juggernaut thunders. Little wonder it immediately announced four events per year in New York for the next three years, with the first event likely in the autumn. Fertitta was categoric: the MMA leader is looking to break gate records in each arena it goes to and that includes MSG.
It’s amazing how the world changes. You may have thought MMA had broken into the mainstream already, the truth is it hadn’t. Now it can. As the song goes: this is a brand new start of it, New York, New York.
This column was first published in the June ’16 edition of Fighters Only.