The curse of New York continues for the UFC
After years of lobbying to make mixed martial arts legal in the state of New York, the woes continue for the UFC.
Years and years of campaigning to legalize mixed martial arts in New York finally ended in 2016 after almost 20 years of being banned, the last state to sanction the sport.
But after finally clearing that legal hurdle, the headaches had only begun for the Ultimate Fighting Championship in what they perceived as the biggest market they were not able to tap into.
UFC 7 was actually held in Buffalo, New York in 1995 before the sport was banned in 1997.
UFC 205 marked the first marquee card to headline the most famous arena in the country, Madison Square Garden, and the card lived up to the hype, producing a memorable night of action that saw UFC superstar Conor McGregor capture the lightweight title over defending champion Eddie Alvarez to become the first fighter in UFC history to hold two championships simultaneously.
UFC 197 was announced by the UFC scheduled to be held in Madison Square Garden before a preliminary injunction allowing the event to take place was denied by a federal judge.
The event was eventually held in Las Vegas.
Tyron Woodley defended his welterweight title against Stephen Thompson and Joanna Jedrzejczyk defended her strawweight championship against Karolina Kowalkiewicz on the undercard, a rarity that the card showcased three championship bouts, a strong indication from the UFC that demonstrated the importance that the state held for the fighting organization.
Kelvin Gastelum did not even bother to make the walk to the scales and announced on social media he would not make weight, causing his fight with Cowboy Cerrone to be cancelled. Dana White was so infuriated that he declared that Gastelum would never be allowed to compete as a welterweight again. This would be a precursor of things to come.
While that card definitely was considered a success, the UFC has had unusual complications in what seems like every event they have tried to hold in the Empire state.
UFC 208 was held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Feb. 11 , 2017 after originally being scheduled for Anaheim, California in Jan. 2017. Originally billed as UFC 209, the original date for the Brooklyn card, was renamed UFC 208 and featured the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight championship between former bantamweight champion, Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie. De Randamie would claim the title, but never defended it, vacating the title to avoid facing current champion, Cris Cyborg.
Maybe the jinx only applies to the big city, as events held in other parts of the state such as UFC Fight Night 102, UFC 210, and UFC Long Island were held without any major complications.
It’s not all sour grapes as UFC 217 was only the second event held at Madison Square Garden and the card delivered one of the best in the promotions history.
The main event featured the return of MMA icon Georges St-Pierre who came out of retirement to vanquish middleweight champion Michael Bisping to become only the fourth fighter at the time to hold championships in two different weight classes.
The stacked undercard featured two more title reigns ending when Rose Namajunas stunned the stalwart of the women’s strawweight division by knocking out Jedezjczyk in the very first round.
TJ Dillashaw completed the trifecta in the co-main event when he wrested the bantamweight championship with a knockout win over his bitter-rival, Cody Garbrandt.
The success of this card diminished the bad taste left in the mouths of fans over previous events held in New York, but it also put enormous pressure on the UFC to deliver a high quality card for future events held at the famed arena.
The obstacles came to a full head when UFC 223 came to town. The original main event was to feature a fight to declare the undisputed lightweight champion between interim champion Tony Ferguson and number one contender Khabib Nurmagomedov, a fight fans have been clamoring for for years as it pitted what many consider the best two lightweights in the world.
Former champion Conor McGregor would be stripped of the full title as soon as the fight began per UFC president Dana White.
This would be the fourth time this tantalizing match up would be staged after several mishaps scratched previous bouts between the two and lightning struck once again as Ferguson suffered a freak injury in a studio parking lot when conducting a media event to promote the fight just a week before the event.
UFC featheweight champion Max Holloway offered to step in to challenge Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title but was ruled physically unable to compete on the day of the weigh-ins after a bad weight cut leaving the UFC scrambling for another opponent.
During the week presiding the event, Nurmagomedov had a confrontation with McGregor’s close friend and training partner Artem Lobov in the hotel lobby where the fighters were staying, prompting McGregor to fly across the globe searching for vengeance against Nurmagomedov.
That led to a near riot in the loading dock area of the Barclay’s Center when McGregor and an entourage of his stormed the arena and caused pandemonium when McGregor tossed a hand truck at one of the buses that Nurmagomedov was inside of.
A shattered window caused injuries to several people inside of the bus including fighters Ray Borg and Michael Chiesa, who were both scheduled to be on the card along with Lobov.
Lobov was removed from the card due to his involvement in the melee and Borg and Chiesa were scrapped from the card due to the injuries suffered in the attack.
Chiesa’s original opponent Anthony Pettis was offered to step into the fight against Nurmagomedov but failed to make weight.
Paul Felder offered to be the replacement against Nurmagomedov but the New York State Athletic Commission would not approve Felder because he was not ranked high enough in the UFC rankings.
Yes….the UFC’s rankings!
Al Iaquinta, who was supposed to face Felder eventually stepped in against Nurmagomedov losing a five-round decision to make Nurmagomedov the undisputed champion.
McGregor would go on to face criminal charges for the scuffle and would ultimately face Nurmagomedov this past weekend at UFC 229 with another near riot coming to fruition, but that’s a whole other story.
All this leads us back to UFC 230 which went announced without a main event mere weeks before the event was to be held. A co-main event between fan favorites Nate Diaz and Dustin Poirier had fans buzzing, all but practically begging the UFC to make it thee main event, thus making it a five-round fight. Both fighters vouched for it, but for reasons known only to the UFC, they flat out refused to make it the main event.
They even went out of the way to scratch a championship fight already signed and delivered for UFC 231 between Jedrzejczyk and former title challenger, Valentina Shevchenko, stunning everyone with an announcement that Shevchenko would now headline UFC 230 against unknown Sijara Eubanks for the vacant women’s flyweight title, causing an uproar with fans and sending social media into a frenzy.
The backlash from the new main event was so immense that the UFC backpedaled and scrapped that fight to announce that reigning heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier would now defend his title against Derrick Lewis, who produced a last minute highlight knockout win over Alexander Volkov this past weekend in a fight he was clearly losing.
Then the UFC produced another head scratcher when they reinstated the Shevchenko against Jedrzejczyk fight for their original date in Toronto.
Eubanks has since been added to the card as well.
The recent decision making of the UFC and it’s current management has been baffling to say the least.
But this is a New York card so you know nothing can come easy. After seemingly producing a main event meaningful enough to headline at MSG, another blow was dealt when hours after the new main event was finalized, Poirier pulled out of the fight with Diaz with an undisclosed injury.
After all the banter about the co-main event, it has completely been scratched with Dana White stating Diaz would not be competing on the card at all against a replacement fighter.
In the city that never sleeps, it’s fitting that events surrounding the electric city of New York is keeping the UFC brass up at night.