Cameron Zick: White must reinvent pitch for MMA to win legalization in New York - Sports Illustrated

To sell New York legislators on MMA, White must reinvent pitch

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NEW YORK -- One minute into Dana White's press conference Thursday at Madison Square Garden, the UFC president stood before a crowd of journalists and organization reps and delivered what would have been shocking news within the mixed-martial-arts world.

"As a matter of fact," White exclaimed, "Tickets go on sale today for Rashad Evans versus the light heavyweight champion Shogun Hua. And that fight is going to be in New York this March."

The room of journalists paused, looking at each other in disbelief. Is there going to be a UFC fight in New York as early as March? The UFC has been clamoring for this for years and this is how White announces the breaking news? No, only a slip-up that a reporter promptly pointed out to White seconds latter.

"What did I say? New York? Yeah, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. This event is actually going to be in Newark, New Jersey," White clarified.

Everyone in the room got a chuckle out of the gaffe. But for White and the UFC, this shouldn't be a laughing matter, because "getting a little ahead of myself" is an understatement.

UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, MSG president Scott O'Neil, UFC fighter Frankie Edgar, New York State assemblyman Dean Murray and White were all on hand at the Garden to advocate a plan to have New York host two UFC events annually -- one in NYC and another upstate -- contingent that New York eventually allows the sport to be regulated in the state. Currently 44 states regulate mixed martial arts, with the Empire State as one of the lone holdouts.

UFC revealed a financed study done by consulting firm HR&A that estimated after only two fights in New York, the UFC would generate $23 million in revenue and bring over 200 jobs annually to the economy. O'Neil advocated for an event to be hosted at Madison Square Garden, once regulated, because the event would generate heightened popularity. He credited his support for the UFC to the first live MMA card he attended last year, noting the great sportsmanship and high crowd energy. Assemblyman Murray chimed in and rationed that New York economy would benefit from adding revenue to the economy rather than implementing taxes, something UFC and this recent study has proven it can do.

And for those worried about safety? Rest assured, White repeatedly mentioned that in the almost-20-year history of the UFC no deaths or serious injuries have occurred in the octagon. On top of that, White reiterated that for their safety, fighters go through rigorous regulatory health measures before each fight.

With safety measures covered and now an economic argument in place, what is holding back UFC being regulated in New York?

"That's a great question," White said, "and I honestly can't answer [it]."

Therein lies White and the UFC's barrier between them and the New York legislation. White continued to sidestep the issue that State Assemblymen Bob Reilly and Sheldon Silver have against the UFC. The assemblymen against regulating UFC in New York base their argument on the moral ground that violence is not good for society, and that UFC promotes a culture of violence. The likes of Reilly and Silver aren't overly concerned about the safety measures being taken before a match, but rather the actions being taken inside the octagon. And while the economic gain is enticing, those opposed to the UFC probably won't be surprised by the economic growth that UFC promises in their new study. Those numbers have been out there for a while; it's nothing they haven't heard before and it is becoming obvious that money will not push them over the edge to vote one way or another.

UFC has spent reportedly $1.5 million lobbying for the sport in New York, but White and Fertitta exhausted much of the conference expressing their disbelief that the New York State Athletic Commission has yet to budge to regulate the sport.

"There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn't be in the state of New York ... I'm not frustrated, but a little baffled," White admitted. "It's an education process."

As they continue to try and educate the people of New York, they also continue to refuse to address the underlying concern behind New York's stance against UFC; that the sport is immorally promoting violence. They stand at the podium, shaking their head in blasphemy as to why the sport has yet to be regulated, but the writing is on the wall.

"Anyone that calls this brutal or barbaric hasn't done their homework on this sport," White insisted.

White has a point here, but if this is the case, then his own educating is lacking. It is his job, as he said, to educate the naysayers, not for them to do their own homework. Yes, the sport has instituted more rules and safety precautions since its primordial days of the 1990's. But those opposed to the UFC being regulated still view the sport in of itself as a barbaric display of modern-day gladiators. Instead of emphasizing the safety precautions taken before a match to ensure that "two healthy athletes," as White puts it, are pitted against each other, White needs to go back to the basics.

New York legislation apparently still sees UFC not for its economic value, but as a brutal act of violence between two human beings. It's an oversight of White to keep pitching to New York the economic value UFC brings or the safety precautions taken before a match. White should stop wasting his time beating the proverbial economic drum and show legislators how far UFC has come since the 1990's, when fights were held with no rules, no refs, and virtually no limitations. He can break-down step-by-step the rules and regulations for inside the octagon that have been implemented since then, which have changed the sport from a free-for-all fight to a fair, mutually respected and monitored battle.

UFC should and probably will be regulated in New York (eventually), its biggest potential market. Having Madison Square Garden host an event like this would rival the great boxing matches once held at the arena. But this won't happen until White reinvents his pitch just as he reinvented the sport.

If White can recognize that New York sees this issue much differently than most states and mix-up his pitch, regulation of the sport can be reached. And unlike the slip-up he made today, a change-up in his proposal can be an oversight he won't regret.