Dana White has felt somewhere between cautiously optimistic and quite optimistic in the last few years that New York politicians would see the light, and see the economic bounty that the UFC could bring to the state, never mind the state of inequality which allows boxing, one combat sport, but doesn't allow MMA, another combat sport, within the state.
This time around, White is so confident that he has put a hold on Madison Square Garden, for one night in November, to hold the first UFC event in New York. He intends it to be a 20th-anniversary extravaganza.
So, one to 10, 10 being most certain, how likely is it that the state legislature legalizes MMA in N.Y.?
"Who knows," White said, not with a note of frustration, but more like resignation. "I’ve been saying it for so long, that I’m optimistic this is going to happen. I’m just very optimistic. It’s ridiculous it hasn’t been done yet. I’m so confident I’m picking a date. We've been working for years with Madison Square Garden, they're a huge supporter and want us to do the first ever MMA event there."
White will release the specific November date when it gets closer to fruition, he told me.
The Legislature calendar runs from Jan. 9 to June 20, so sometime before June 20, we will know if this is the year. Last year, the state Senate passed a bill to legalize pro MMA, in April. In May, the state Assembly chose not to put a bill to allow pro-MMA in N.Y. to the floor to vote.
So what’s the holdup? Who’s the holdout?
Assemblyman Bob Reilly, a Democrat from the Albany area, emerged as a lead blocker to the passage. N.Y. MMA lovers rejoiced when his term ended, and he left his seat in December.
Did White send him a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates when his term ended?
"It had nothing to do with him, he got more credit than he deserves," White said.
I put in a call to the office of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who needs to embrace, or at least tolerate MMA in N.Y., for it to get a foothold. A spokesman told me that the Governor’s budget was about to drop, so the Speaker will be tied up with that for a bit, but that someone would check in with me and talk MMA by the end of the week.
"I’m confident it’s going to happen," White continued. "I’ve been confident every year, but I’m confident."
And if UFC gets blown off, not inconceivable considering the legislature has been dealing with pressing issues since the 2008 worldwide economic meltdown, and has now been hashing out gun regulation issues, and will be looking to attend to infrastructure issues and climate-change adaptations, will White blow a gasket?
"It doesn’t make or break the UFC," he said, evenly. "But we should be in. That’s the only state with an athletic commission that isn’t. The people want to see it, the state needs the money."
Check back for part 3, which deals with just how much UFC needs N.Y., and who might appear on that November MSG card ...