The UFC's Fight For New York

It's official. For the fourth straight year, the bill aimed at legalizing professional mixed martial arts in the state of New York will not go to Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver confirmed this Tuesday after a meeting of the Democratic Congress, according to Newsday.

For the history of the UFC’s fight for the legalization of MMA in the state of New York, read below.

The year was 2011. Electronic beats pulsated and blared throughout the arena. The crowd of almost 13,000 fans watched as Mixed Martial Arts legend and UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua walked to the Octagon cage.

As he stood inside, the music of his opponent hit the arena —“New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” Jay-Z’s hit song “Empire State of Mind” sang by Alicia Keys.

The challenger Jon Jones, a Rochester, N.Y. native, approached the cage where he would handle the champion Rua with a TKO in the third round, becoming the sport’s newest phenomenon.

For a moment, if you forgot that you took a train ride or a car ride across the Hudson River, it felt like a New York show.

But it wasn’t. It was in the heart of New Jersey, at Newark’s Prudential Center.

Fast-forward to April 27th of this year, two years after Jones’ Newark emergence: the champion still finds himself inextricably grasping the light heavyweight belt, headlining pay-per-views and still unable to showcase his talents in the state where he grew up — more specifically, in Madison Square Garden.

The UFC has held fan events in the Big Apple before, recently it broadcast its Fuel TV programming from Manhattan’s Herald Square. But still no fights.

Despite intense lobbying by the UFC, New York remains the only state in the country where Mixed Martial Arts remains illegal. But that hasn’t stopped the UFC from trying to change that.

So on this occasion Jones would face controversial challenger Chael Sonnen not in the city that’s home to the New York Rangers or the Knicks, but where the New Jersey Devils reside and where 15,000 rabid fight fans filled the arena.

A year ago, at a media event held at Radio City Music Hall to promote UFC on FOX 3 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J., the crowd and press asked the fighters about the UFC finally putting on a show in New York City. UFC President Dana White and the fighters –including headliner Jim Miller, a New Jersey native who was set to fight Nate Diaz– were optimistic. The event's fighters donned “UFC NYC” shirts and posed on the Radio City marquee for the fans.

“We're going to get this thing done in New York. There're a lot of hardcore fans and people involved who are just as eager to get MMA in New York as we are,” White told the Radio City crowd. “We've been putting a lot of effort in New York. It's inevitable.”

But for White, the positivity he had on the issue may finally be fading.

“I just… just don’t care anymore,” White told ESPN this past April, a few days before the Jones/Sonnen UFC 159 card. “I’m at the point where it is what it is… I’m just over it.”

White insisted that he wasn’t being pessimistic, just honest, and was taking a more philosophical approach considering the gargantuan strides his organization and sport have taken in the last two decades. After all, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship began in 1993, the sport was considered a “blood sport,” given its lack of rules, rations of blood and wholesale violence.

After Station Casinos owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, along with White bought the UFC in 2001 and largely put the sport back into the spectacle, the UFC evolved to today’s prime time attraction. Once called “human cockfighting” by Arizona Senator John McCain, MMA and the UFC has been largely accepted as a legitimate combat sport in the vein of boxing.

So why has MMA moved into states like California, New Jersey, Texas and Florida but been unable to make a move in a state that holds one of the most iconic arenas for the sport of boxing?

As hard as it is to believe, a culinary union in Nevada may be prolonging the inevitable.

“The culinary union is spending money to oppose the bill in New York,” Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for the UFC in Albany told Fox News Latino in late April. “They don’t seem to object to the UFC fights in Vegas [where many of the casinos hire union workers]; they seem to object to it coming to New York.”

Culinary Workers Union Local 226, the largest union in Nevada, has long been in a battle with the UFC over the Fertitta brothers’ hesitation to essentially unionize its employees and, according to the UFC, it has responded by campaigning against them. It labels the sport as “unfit for children” and has launched a website attacking the brand for any missteps the company or its fighters have taken.

The truth of the matter is that the UFC has grown and grown and has cities in this country and cities across the globe begging the UFC to come do events in their city. It doesn't hurt the UFC to not be in New York. It does hurt New York to not have the UFC and MMA in New York.

— Steven Greenberg, UFC Albany Spokesman

The site even goes so far as to attack UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for not standing up for Latinos like Julio Cesar Chavez did.

The Culinary Union did not respond to phone calls by Fox News Latino.

The UFC recently launched its own website, “The Truth About Culinary Union 226,” to combat the union’s accusations. Meanwhile, Lorenzo Fertitta has kept his presence in Albany hoping that the State Senate bill to legalize professional MMA in New York will reach the Assembly.

Fertitta, along with UFC title contender Chris Weidman and UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, lobbied their cause this past March at the New York state capitol.

“We would love to do events in Buffalo, in Syracuse, in upstate New York, where there is tremendous economic strife,” Fertitta told The Wall Street Journal’s Lee Hawkins last year in a video interview. “We’d go to Buffalo which is not far from Toronto; we’d bring Georges St-Pierre or some of our big fighters from Canada. Let me tell you what, 20,000 people will rock that city.”

Fertitta has pledged at least four New York state events a year once they are legalized, according to Greenberg, the UFC spokesman.

“The truth of the matter is that the UFC has grown and grown and has cities in this country and cities across the globe begging [it] to come do events in their city,” Greenberg said.  “It does hurt New York to not have the UFC and MMA in New York.”

As to who is to blame for the legislation not being taken up by the Assembly, it doesn’t help that the House Speaker doesn’t seem to care about the issue.

“Speaker [Sheldon] Silver says that right now he does not believe it has the support of his conference, the assembling Democratic majority. We believe it does have the support. The speaker runs the Assembly and gets to make those decisions,” said Greenberg.

“This bill has overwhelming support,” Greenberg said this past April. “We are cautiously, guardedly optimistic that finally this year the bill will be allowed out to come to the floor to the Assembly to vote.”

Silver did not immediately return a call from Fox News Latino seeking comment.

Last week The New York Daily News reported that 35 Democrats of the 104 in the Assembly were against the legalization of MMA bill, leaving the legislation seven votes short for its approval and essentially guaranteeing that MMA won’t be legalized in New York this year.

The Daily News also reported in April that ZUFFA LLC, the UFC’s parent company, had spent 1.6 million dollars on lobbying efforts and campaigns since 2007.

Earlier this month, Connecticut became the 49th state to legalize Mixed Martial Arts. On June 5th, Dana White tweeted a map of the United States highlighting the state of New York as the lone holdout.

White asked: “Hey, I have a question for everyone, who looks stupid on this map?”

Follow Victor Garcia on Twitter at @MrVicGarcia.

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