Most visitors to New York enter by way of New Jersey. Why should the Ultimate Fighting Championship be any different? The Las Vegas--based mixed martial arts organization has made no secret of its ambition to penetrate the defense of the Empire State—currently one of six states in which the sport is not sanctioned. Last Saturday's fight card, UFC 111, held at the Prudential Center in Newark, sometimes seemed simply to be an occasion for a Big Apple charm offensive
Having spent a million dollars on lobbying and public relations in New York, the UFC conducted a prefight press conference at Radio City Music Hall. Welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, the card's headliner, posed atop the Empire State Building. The reductio ad absurdum came when Dana White, the UFC's bombastic president, had his bald-headed likeness cast in chocolate by a chichi downtown pastry chef. "We want to bring a big fight to Madison Square Garden," says White. "It's just creating awareness."
A study commissioned by the UFC suggested that a card in Manhattan could generate as much as $11 million in economic activity for the city. As New York's state budget deficit balloons past $9 billion, legalizing and taxing MMA is low-hanging fruit. The most recent budget submitted by New York governor David Paterson contains a provision to overturn the ban on MMA, and even longtime critics appear close to, well, tapping out. Saturday's card, before a packed house of 17,000, was unlikely to appeal to every New Yorker's aesthetics, even with St-Pierre's clinical (and bloodless) decision over England's Dan Hardy. But there was plenty of commerce. The gate alone was roughly $4 million. According to White half the fans were from New York. The guess here: Soon, New Yorkers won't have to cross a river to see the UFC.
GREGORY PAYAN (UFC)
KICK START St-Pierre (right) outclassed Hardy, but the real main events were in Manhattan.