The UFC is planning it's first fight at Madison Square Garden headlining Jon “Bones” Jones this spring despite the fact that the sport is still banned in New York State.
The New York Post reported that the UFC is plowing ahead with plans to hold its first event at then Garden on April 23 with the main event featuring the former light heavyweight champion trying to get his title back from current champion Daniel Cormier.
New York remains the only state in the country not to sanction professional mixed martial arts, with the Democrat-controlled state assembly citing concerns about violence associated with the sport and even questioning how women are treated at the events.
“It would be epic. It would be huge,” said UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta of the megafight, anticipating that MMA will be approved in the political cage.
The UFC has contracted the date at the Garden with the hopes of there being a resolution in the UFC’s long-running effort to get MMA legalized in the state. Ideally, the state legislature finally will pass a bill to regulate the popular sport through the New York State Athletic Commission.
A tune fight Empire State fans have heard before.
In the meantime, the UFC filed suit with the US Court of Appeals of the Second Circuit arguing the state’s prohibition of regulated professional MMA events violates the First Amendment right of athletes and fans. The UFC also has filed in federal court calling the ban of MMA unconstitutional.
“We’re hopeful this year might be the year,” Fertitta said. “I know we’ve said that many times. But we’re hopeful the bill will not only be introduced for a vote this year, but it will happen early in the session.”
If professional MMA is not legalized by the Assembly in time to begin promoting the April event, the UFC will seek a preliminary injunction against New York from enforcing its “unconstitutional” law.
“Hopefully, there will be a decision on it by the middle of January,” Fertitta said.
UFC on Fox 18 will take place Jan. 30 at the Prudential Center in Newark, the latest in a number of MMA events held in New Jersey, one of the first states to regulate the sport and benefit from its rising popularity.
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, now a convicted money launderer and extortionist, had been MMA's biggest and most powerful opponent. The ousted Silver and a Las Vegas culinary union did all they could to oppose the sport in New York and stall its progress.
Fertitta owns the largest non-union casino company in Las Vegas, and the culinary union wants to force unionization in Nevada by lobbying against UFC’s efforts in New York.
“They’re looking for leverage against me and my brother,” Fertitta said.
Bones-Cormier would be a quick sellout. Jones (21-1) was once considered the most dominant fighter in the sport. A native of Endicott, New York, he became the youngest champion in UFC at age 23 when he won the belt at UFC 128 in 2011. But he was stripped of his title and suspended from the UFC in April following his arrest on felony hit-and-run charges in Albuquerque, NM. It had followed incidents where Jones was arrested for DUI in 2012 and earlier this year tested positive for benzoylecgonine, the primary metabolite of cocaine.
News of the failed drug test was not revealed until three days after Jones defeated Cormier by unanimous decision at UFC 182 in January. Cormier later defeated Anthony Johnson to win the vacant title.
Jones was given 18 months of supervised probation. He was reinstated into the UFC in October and helped Holly Holm train for her recent upset of Ronda Rousey.