“My real dream is not to headline in a stadium but to headline at Madison Square Garden,” light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones divulged on the conference call promoting UFC 182. “I’ve been saying it before I was champion. I do believe it will happen one day.”
But that day won’t be today. Instead of New York native Jon Jones taking on Daniel Cormier tonight in the legendary Big Apple arena, the anticipated bout takes place in the city that displaced Gotham as the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas, Nevada. New York remains the lone holdout among the fifty U.S. states in prohibiting mixed-martial-arts (MMA) events like UFC 182.
With a new state legislature assuming power in Albany next week, and MMA foe Sheldon Silver, speaker of the state assembly, facing a federal investigation into alleged corruption, the stars appear aligned for another push to legalize the sport in New York. Just as the success of Norwegian boxer Cecilia Braekhus catalyzed the Scandinavian country’s legalization of boxing last month, the blinding starpower of several Empire State mixed-martial artists, enthusiasts of the sport believe, can’t help but provoke a reassessment of the ban.
“When you look at mixed-martial arts and the premier athletes,“ Titan FC featherweight champ Desmond Green told Breitbart Sports in December, “we got a lot of guys from New York. You look at Chris Weidman, Jon Jones, Dennis Bermudez—we got a lot of guys from New York who are high-level MMA athletes. It would really help the market if we threw a fight at home.”
Green, who calls Rochester home, believes he could compete to packed venues in his hometown. Because of the ban, the high-level wrestler with quick hands fights in front of scattered strangers in far-away cities where his name doesn’t draw the way it would in the city where his friends and family reside.
The rising cage-fighting star hardly stands alone in wishing for New York legislators to tap out to the will of cage-fighting fans. The UFC’s light-heavyweight and middleweight champions, as well as contenders Dennis Bermudez and Rashad Evans, all hail from the Knickerbocker State. They have never performed before a home crowed.
“It’s sad,” UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman told Breitbart Sports last year. “I have a lot of pride being from New York, born and raised there—still train there. It’s where I raise my kids. For me not being able to compete and give my fans the show they want to see is heartbreaking. I want to get it legalized as fast as possible.”
“One hundred percent,” confirms UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein about whether the promotion would host fights immediately in New York once the legislature repeals the ban and opts to regulate the sport as they do boxing, karate, and other competitive martial arts. “The moment this thing gets lifted we’ll be scheduling dates. And not just in New York City, but in Upstate and Western New York.”
Speaking to Breitbart Sports on the eve of New Yorker Jon Jones’s blockbuster light-heavyweight title fight against Daniel Cormier, Epstein points out that the UFC estimates a $135 million annual economic impact, based on fight cards, gyms, and other MMA-derived income drivers, for New York should the state legislature repeal the prohibition.
Jon Jones, Des Green, and Chris Weidman want the ban lifted as fast as possible. Lawrence Epstein believes fast is possible. The UFC’s chief operating officer says about a repeal, “We’re very excited about 2015.”
Fight fans may soon see Des Green blitz opponents in Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, Chris Weidman ground-and-pound challengers in Nassau Coliseum, and Jon Jones raise his belt in Madison Square Garden. But tonight, if New York MMA fans wish to watch the state’s, and the world’s, premier mixed-martial artist perform in person, they must travel thousands of miles and book a hotel room in the desert, where they will likely drink, eat, and gamble away paychecks earned in the Empire State.
What’s spent in Vegas stays in Vegas.