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Lorenzo Fertitta: “Our Sport Has Grown, The UFC Has Grown, So The Impact Has Grown”

MMA in New York Update – 11.21.13

It has been exactly five months to the day since I posted an MMA in New York update, but today Zuffa held a press conference at Madison Square Garden announcing their revised projections on the economic benefit of sanctioned MMA in the state, so why not give you one? Of course, at the top of the list of news are the new numbers that can be bandied about as reasons why the ban on the sport should be lifted, but there’s also the bombshell that Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi dropped at the press conference, plus an interview with UFC honcho Lorenzo Fertitta.

$135 Million

According to the revised projections (based on data compiled by HR&A Associates, the lobbying firm who handled the 2011 study), legalizing pro MMA will incur a boon of about $135 million for the state – a number significantly higher than their previous estimate of $23 million. The breakdown on this economic windfall is based on an estimated $34 million generated from five UFC events (which is up from four), plus $34 million from non-UFC events like Bellator, World Series of Fighting, Ring of Combat, et al., plus an additional $67 million generated by the influx of UFC Gyms that are anticipated by a lifting of the ban. (Note: UFC Gyms are not illegal in New York State. In fact, there are a few already. The study is assuming that more MMA events will breed more gyms.) You can read the 2013 study here.

New Insight

In attendance at the Madison Square Garden were Fertitta, UFC champs Chris Weidman, Jose Aldo, Renan Barao and Dominic Cruz, and top featherweight challenger Ricardo Lamas. There were also a few New York-based politicians, none of them really saying anything of consequence – that is, until Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi took a turn at the podium. Representing the 28th District (i.e., Queens), Assemblyman Hevesi provided some heretofore unheard of insight into the process that’s been keeping the Assembly’s half of the MMA bill on ice year after year. While the blame for holding the bill back has been resting squarely on the shoulders of (now former) Assemblyman Bob Reilly and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, according to Assemblyman Hevesi, the real blame lies with the fact that the MMA bill has simply lacked enough support in the Democratic Conference.

What does this mean in layman’s terms? As the majority party in the Assembly, 100 Democrats will meet in a private conference to debate which bills should get attention and moved to the floor for a vote. No less than 76 votes out of those 100 are required for a bill to get that forward momentum – and as a member of that Democratic Conference, Assemblyman Hevesi has seen with his own eyes both the contentious discussion the MMA bill generates behind those closed doors and the lack of support that’s been holding it back.

This is simultaneously bad and good news for folks in New York who want the state to legalize pro MMA events. It’s bad because it means we as constituents have done a poor job of letting our legislators know that we want the sport here. However, it’s good news because it means that it isn’t the whims of one man (Assembly Speaker Silver) keeping the ban in place – and letting your local Assemblyman know you want MMA sanctioned is just one kindly-worded email away.

It should also be noted that while the MMA bill has failed to find support within the Democratic Conference, that doesn’t mean that if the bill had gone to the floor for a vote it wouldn’t have passed. There are, after all, Republicans in the Assembly, Republicans who could have voted in favor of MMA and enabled the bill to pass.

A Few Words with Lorenzo Fertitta

I spoke with Fertitta after the press conference and he reiterated much of what was said, touching on how the sport and the UFC have grown, and therefore their impact has grown – hence the new economic study. However, he also spoke of Zuffa’s lawsuit against the State of New York, and what they might do if the Attorney General makes a settlement offer that stipulates that third-party sanctioning is a viable means of holding pro MMA events here.

“You know, I don’t want to speculate on that,” he said. “We’d certainly come to the table and talk to the Attorney General and try to come to some resolution. If that’s what they would want us to do, then we would sincerely think about that. Our goal is to put on events here in a safe, regulated manner. If they feel like a third party can do a better job than the state, then so be it.”

You can watch the interview here:

Other News

In other news, GLORY is holding a huge pro kickboxing event at Madison Square Garden on Saturday (remember: the law banning pro MMA lumps kickboxing into the same “combative sport” pile, the only difference is GLORY is being sanctioned by an approved third-party organization). There was also an underground amateur MMA show last Sunday, and there’s an ISKA-sanctioned amateur MMA show called Golden MMA Championships this Saturday as well.

Here’s a fight from Sunday’s Underground Combat League event: