Friday, January 14, 2011

Editorial: UFC Press Conference - Was the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Generally speaking, any positive attention given to the need for legalization and regulation of mixed martial arts in New York State is a great thing. The UFC, being the largest and most well known mixed martial arts promotional company, has the pulpit and pocketbook to do just that. On Thursday, January 13th, I attended the UFC press conference held at world famous Madison Square Garden (MSG). In attendance were UFC 155lb Champion Frankie Edgar, UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC President Dana White, and Steve Scott O'Neil, representing MSG.

The stated goals of the gathering were to once again publicly push for legalized mixed martial arts in New York, re-state the UFC's desire to host events in New York with MSG, and present the economic benefits of hosting professional mixed martial arts in New York in the form of a new financial analysis.

To nobody's surprise the economic report, a revision of an earlier study, revealed how much money New York could make from professional mixed martial arts events held in the state. Again to nobody's surprise, the UFC and MSG re-affirmed their desire to work together. All the panelists publicly supported regulating mixed martial arts in New York. Of course this is all great news as fans would love to see a UFC show at the Garden.

But, the conclusion of the presser left those in attendance wondering what the point really was. What was the point of a hastily arranged PR event, which only served to re-state the obvious? Where was the grand plan? What was the UFC going to do to help mixed martial arts get legalized in New York? How was the UFC going to work with local groups like The Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York and others, who have been the boots on the ground of this battle since 1997? There was talk of grass roots movements but, no practical evidence of it at the event.

According to Global Strategy Group (the UFC's PR firm), the event was designed to target the ears of Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York's newly elected Governor has benefited from Zuffa's tremendous financial campaign contributions [as evidenced in the links below]:

Zuffa Lining NY Governor Candidate Andrew Cuomo's Pockets In The Hopes To Legalize MMA In NY

UFC goes another round in effort for N.Y. sanction

Yet, Cuomo has remained silent on the issue to date. At the conclusion of Thursday's UFC press conference, I was left wondering what new information had really been offered up for our Governor's consideration. Cuomo surely knows the financial benefits of mixed martial arts.

I was also left wondering why there were no New Yorkers from the mixed martial arts community speaking at the event. Who was going to tell Cuomo about the financial realities of trying to run a gym in New York? Who was going to share with Cuomo that within the last few months several gyms in Manhattan alone have had to close down? Who was going to explain to Cuomo what it takes for New York based fighters to engage in the sport they love out of state...and how much that costs?

One gem who revealed himself at Thursday's press conference was Junior Assemblyman Dean Murray (R, C-East Patchogue). Assemblyman Murray, not on the UFC's invite list, came of his own volition to speak in support of reaching across the aisle to once and for all regulate mixed martial arts in 2011. Assemblyman Murray's unscheduled appearance demonstrated to me that NY is primed to have a grass roots movement [See links below]:

Assemblyman Dean Murray Supports MMA at UFC Presser

In the end, I was left disappointed by Thursday's press conference. It is admirable that the UFC will publicly state its support for mixed martial arts in New York. But, as the largest MMA company with the loudest bullhorn, I had much higher expectations. I know the UFC can do better.

Stephen Koepfer
Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York

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