Zuffa’s global expansion campaign continues with this weekend’s incursion into Australia, but some of this nation’s finest cities have yet to host a UFC event. In the case of the biggest and brightest in the United States, Zuffa’s desire to invade Madison Square Garden is burning but held back by political bellyaching. Others that have hosted MMA shows have proven the capability to draw an audience and can appeal to both a demographic and a region. For those reasons, we suggest five cities in which the UFC needs to make an impact.
New York City is the home of what the late, legendary public address announcer John Condon called “the magic world of Madison Square Garden.” The United States’ largest city can also brag about its bright lights, Broadway and Times Square. If Las Vegas is America’s playground, New York is the world’s showcase.
Those are merely a few reasons why the UFC belongs in the Big Apple. Everybody wants it: Zuffa, the fighters, the fans – except MMA still remains unsanctioned in the state of New York. A crusty, cantankerous Assemblyman named Bob Reilly has long been the primary opposition to a bill that would legalize the sport.
“We have a violent society today,” Reilly says. “We’re trying to stop domestic violence, bullying in schools, gangs in the city. I don’t think it’s good for society as a whole.”
Great, Bob. Tell that to the states in the union that sanction MMA and all 50 that provide an outlet for kids to unleash violence inside a gym instead of the streets. Even embattled New York Gov. David Patterson believes in the concept. In January, Patterson presented a budget to the New York legislature which included revenue from state regulated MMA events.
Even though Reilly and his acolytes will throw up resistance and red tape to delay a UFC show at the Garden until 2011, it’s inevitable the bill will pass. A major show at the Mecca will pump life into the economy and get the New York media machine churning more mainstream attention than the UFC has ever enjoyed. In many cases if it makes too much sense it never gets done, but more people are finally realizing UFC in NYC is so logical it needs to happen.
Arizona’s largest city is a hub for high-level MMA. Three known UFC fighters, Cain Velasquez, Ryan Bader and C.B. Dollaway, excelled as wrestlers at Arizona State; Bader, Dollaway, Aaron Simpson, and Steve Steinbeiss train at Arizona Combat Sports. Benson Henderson winning the WEC lightweight title also drew attention to the Glendale-based MMA LAB.
The state’s heavily Hispanic population might respond strongly to Velasquez if he puts himself in title contention with a win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 110. Backed by the UFC’s marketing prowess, the night Velasquez steps into the Octagon in the city of Phoenix or suburban Glendale, he could have drawing power akin to Urijah Faber’s in Sacramento.
World Extreme Cagefighting’s debut in San Diego last Jan. truly was a success as WEC 38: Varner vs. Cerrone drew 10,201 for a live gate of $486,324. On the card, Varner defeated Cerrone for a successful defense of his lightweight title and Urijah Faber earned a first-round submission during his rematch with Jens Pulver. Also victorious were Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz and Ben Henderson (over Anthony Njokuani).
The buzz wasn’t too shabby for the UFC’s kid brother, and UFC 104 drew 14,892 of Los Angeles’ notoriously fickle fans to the Staples Center in Oct. that saw Lyoto Machida’s controversial win over Mauricio Rua.
Zuffa’s first and only appearance in Miami was UFC 42 in 2003, when Matt Hughes successfully defended his welterweight title against Sean Sherk and Rich Franklin won his UFC debut with a first-round TKO of Evan Tanner, before a crowd of 6,700 at American Airlines Arena.
The Miami area has hosted two major MMA events recently, most recently the Strikeforce show that included Herschel Walker and two title fights featuring Cris Cyborg’s successful defense and Nick Diaz capturing the vacant welterweight title. The card drew 517,000 viewers on Showtime, a 51. 6 increase of the previous Strikeforce: Evolution show, and sold 4,927 tickets – a comped 2,083 boosted the total to 7.010 – for a net gate of $301,424.60. It was also an improvement from the EliteXC event headlined by Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano that sold 2,680 for a gross gate of $559,000.
Dana White has referred to Strikeforce as a “lower-level show.” Then why not show ‘em how it’s done, Dana?
Last May, the UFC’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner expressed an interest in putting on a show at the Conseco Fieldhouse as a pay-per-view or a UFC Fight Night that would air on Spike TV. The state’s first regulated event took place in early 2010. Indiana’s capital is a passionate and loyal sports town known for handling large-scale events with aplomb. Plus, Indy half a day’s drive from the UFC hotbed of Columbus, Ohio, and the major population centers of Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis.