Boxing: MMA

Bill de Blasio talks boxing, MMA

September, 9, 2013
Tuesday is an election day in New York City, as voters can cast a ballot in the party primaries.

For the big seat, the Mayor's chair, Brooklyn resident Bill de Blasio is ahead in the polls. Voters consider different criteria, of course, but I thought some of you, like me, might like to know what the man who could well be the head of NYC's executive branch, the 109th mayor of the Big Apple, thinks about boxing.

So, I cornered the 52-year-old de Blasio on Saturday afternoon and queried the man as he attempted to entice voters near the entrance to J.J. Byrne Playground on Fifth Ave. in Park Slope.

Does he like boxing, I wondered?

"In truth, it's not my sport," de Blasio said. "I'm big into baseball, big into football. Boxing's not my thing, honestly." De Blasio, who grew up in Cambridge, Mass., is a Red Sox rooter, it turns out.

What about, say, Muhammad Ali? Watch him growing up?

"I appreciate Ali as a historical figure, a hundred percent, I appreciate what he achieved, and I respect it, but it's just not my sport," he said.

I informed de Blasio about the burgeoning fistic scene we have going on in New York, what with regular fight cards being held at Barclays Center and at Madison Square Garden. Could we see a Mayor de Blasio attending a card, maybe to see Manhattan's Peter Quillin, the WBO middleweight champion, if he were to headline at Barclays?

"It's just not my thing, I'm happy to see the Barclays Center doing well, in general, but it just isn't the thing I put my time into," he said.

What about mixed martial arts? Would de Blasio support the New York State Assembly voting to make professional MMA legal, paving the way for UFC to promote events in the city? Yea or nay on that?

"I'm nay on that, honestly, for a variety of reasons I don't think we need that in New York," he said.

I pressed for the primary reason.

"I think there's symbolism in terms of violence and certainly some allegations of other types of things, messages sent that I think is unhelpful, wouldn't be the thing that I want to see," he said, in closing, as an aide requested I wrap things up.

So there you go ... If being pro-pugilism and MMA is your litmus test for a mayor, you will not be pulling the lever for de Blasio. But you gotta give the man credit for not pandering.

Follow Woods on Twitter.

Yormark: Boxing would be key in Coliseum

July, 3, 2013
Brooklyn is a busy borough, one that brings plenty of attributes to the table.

Long Island doesn't have that same cachet, and so I wonder if the Barclays Center crew could in fact replicate their success in Brooklyn on the island.

During a recent interview, Barclays Center and Nets CEO Brett Yormark had the same tone as he had in 2010, when I betrayed a slight degree of skepticism that a renovated building could in fact attract enough boxing fans regularly to make boxing a worthy building block.

"There's a play out there on Long Island for everything we do here, be it boxing, college basketball, [pro wrestling], concerts and so forth," he said.

Yormark said his group has received commitments for more than 200 events in the first year of the rehabbed coliseum, and they plan to host more than 300 events annually there. He said that their research shows eight percent of Nets fans come to Brooklyn from Long Island, and only 13 percent of people attending non-Nets events are from L.I., so that speaks to the room for expansion.

And what role would boxing have at the Barclays-run coliseum?

Yormark said his partner Golden Boy Promotions has committed to bringing some of their shows in the theater. Yormark also hopes to "accommodate some bigger fights there." In addition, he'd like to have Golden Boy put some non-televised cards in that theater, to give the local fighters more reps.

Long Island boxing isn't in a horrid place, with Coram, N.Y. native Jamel Herring's 4-0 record as a pro after making the 2012 USA Olympic squad, and Chris Algieri, a 16-0 junior welterweight, building a fan base on cards run by Joe DeGuardia. But neither man would fill the big, refurbished room. Still, former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney, who was a certified attraction on Long Island and currently co-hosts a Sirius radio boxing program along with partner Randy Gordon, says it could sustain a regular boxing program.

"Hell yeah," said Coooney, a 56-year-old Huntington, N.Y. product who retired with a 28-3 mark in 1990. "You've got some good kids there. Boxing as a sport has corrected itself, put better fights on. MMA snuck in there and that forced boxing to put on more competitive fights."

He cited his 1980 Nassau Coliseum fight with Ron Lyle, a first-round KO win, as a career highlight. "It can be better than ever," he said.

No surprise, the Madison Square Garden group likes their chances to snag the coliseum and put their stamp on it. A Garden spokesman offered this statement to NYFightblog when asked about their bid: “Madison Square Garden has been the longtime Mecca of boxing. We have terrific relationships with all of the top boxing promoters and, as part of our plan to create a thriving sports and entertainment destination on Long Island, look forward to leveraging those strong relationships, along with our expertise, to deliver boxing excitement to the Nassau Coliseum.”

The Garden's bid is a $250 million package, and they are playing up an Islander-themed sports bar in a nod to acknowledging the Isles' import.
Check back for the final part of this package, which includes Yormark's desire to both close and re-open the "Barclays" Coliseum in grand fashion...

Follow Woods on Twitter here.

MMA on the way?

June, 6, 2013
Connecticut's state senate voted 26-9 in favor of a bill legalizing MMA on Wednesday, a bill that had previously passed 117-26 in the state assembly.

Once the bill is signed by Governor Dan Malloy -- which is considered a formality -- New York will have the distinction of being the only state banning MMA (it is unregulated in Montana and Alaska, but legal).

Does this make it more likely that New York passes Assembly Bill 6506? Probably not.

UFC president Dana White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta are among those who have been less than optimistic that the MMA bill will ever come to a vote in the state, largely due to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

It seems that if Assembly Bill 6506, or any bill of its ilk, came to a straight yea-or-nay vote, the vote would be lopsided in favor of legalizing MMA. Getting the bill on the agenda, however, is the problem.

So does that mean there is no hope for legal MMA in New York? Not quite.

Silver is facing pressure to resign. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 51 percent of New York State voters believe Silver should step down in the wake of his perceived mishandling of a sexual harassment scandal.

If Silver, the most vocal MMA opponent in New York, were to relinquish power and the bill passed a full assembly vote, we could see MMA at MSG sooner rather than later.

But don't hold your breath.

Oscar De La Hoya at the upfronts

May, 17, 2013
From Monday through Thursday, television people convened in New York City to hype their stuff and try to convince advertisers that their programming is top grade and worthy of getting top advertising dollars. Boxing exec Oscar De La Hoya made the trek to the "upfronts" from the West Coast, and on Wednesday, made his pitch to potential ad buyers about the health and well-being of his promotional outfit, Golden Boy Promotions.

"I was invited by Fox, our partners," he told NYFightblog in a phone conversation Friday. "We're starting on Fox Sports 1 in August, plus we do a lot of boxing on Fox Deportes. I was in front of the guys who spend the big bucks, and telling them that we put on great fights."

There were several hundred advertisers taking in his presentation, the soon-to-be Hall of Famer told me. "It was all great for the sport."

De La Hoya said he was shooting the breeze with UFC honcho Dana White, who went on after him, in the green room. White is Barnum-esque, a smooth showman who can charm with the best of them. How did De La Hoya fare? "I had the crowd going," he said, chuckling. "I told them if they add a few more zeros, I might come back to the ring."

You're joking, right? Or would you like to come back, give it one more go, against, say, Canelo Alvarez?

"Well ... " indicating that he understands his 40-year-old bones might not stand up to the hard knocks delivered by the 22-year-old who might meet Floyd Mayweather in September.

De La Hoya hung up the gloves officially in 2009, with a 39-6 mark.

"There's not one day that passes that I don't think about it," he admitted, "but I realize that I can't fight at the highest level, and the highest level is the only one I'd want to fight at."

De La Hoya also teased something that could come to fruition, besides maybe more ad dollars for the Fox content. "I have a very, very important meeting coming up, with me and Dana White," he said. I bothered him for a hint about the topic.

"It'll be about how we can work together," he said. "Cross-promoting. This is all combat."

Dana White: 'Over' MMA in New York

April, 25, 2013

Excited for MMA in New York?

We've heard New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the biggest critics of the legalization of MMA, say it was inevitable.

So how is UFC president Dana White feel about MMA coming to the Big Apple?

"It's not even that I'm pessimistic," Dana White said. "I just don't care anymore."

"I'm just over it," White said.

Let's recap: Why isn't MMA in New York legal?

"The Las Vegas culinary union," White said. "What's funny is that they're sending all these letters to people in New York, the politicians and everything else, why aren't they sending those same letters out in Las Vegas? ... because they would get laughed out of the city."

But what about the people who are against the violence in MMA?

"These people that are saying this are just pawns of the culinary union of Las Vegas," White added.

QUESTION: Do you guys buy that White is really "over" having MMA in New YorK?

MMA, Dana White, UFC

Sheldon Silver: MMA in NY is inevitable

March, 7, 2013
Looks like MMA and the UFC is one step closer to the Big Apple.

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has blocked MMA legalization in New York for years, admitted to reporters in Albany on Wednesday, “I think at some point there will probably be an approval in this state.”

Silver said that he is still personally opposed to MMA but sees how the sport could be used to increase the state’s revenue.

Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters, "I think it's making progress and it's something we're looking at as a possible source of revenue, and we are all about looking for revenue in this state.

"So if we can bring economic activity in -- shows, etc. -- that's something we're very interested in and we're reviewing the current proposals."

"The legalization enjoys widespread, bipartisan support from upstate and downstate members in both houses," State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo said.

"Legalizing MMA in New York will mean jobs and increased revenue. It will mean UFC, as well as other MMA promoters, will hold matches here. It means New York fans will no longer have to travel to New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and other states, but will be able to see live professional MMA in their local arenas," Griffo added.

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle is sponsoring S2755-2013, which passed the state's Senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation by a 11-3 vote.

"It’s long past time that we officially sanction this sport in the state," Griffo said in a press release. "For five years, I’ve been making the case that the numbers don’t lie; bringing MMA events to New York State will have a tremendously positive impact through the jobs that can be created and the spending that will stimulate the economy."

UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and UFC middleweight contender (and New York native) Chris Weidman were among UFC fighters who went to Albany Wednesday to help with the PR push.

UFC in transition, adding NY would help

January, 24, 2013
The UFC was on a roll there for a spell, with standouts like Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell having some success breaking out of the Octagonal holding pen and getting on the radar of more casual sports fans. But Liddell retired at the end of 2010 and Couture aged out, hanging up the mini-gloves in April 2011 at age 47.

So this is something of a UFC Version 4.0: You had the Gracie-Tank Abbott era, the Tito Ortiz era, the Couture-Liddell era and today's era, which is being presented by the market makers who wish to continue to make growth strides.

The company standouts are Anderson Silva, a 37-year-old Brazilian who is majestically talented but mercurial, sometimes prone to showboating his way through rounds; Jon Jones, a 24-year-old Rochester, N.Y. native who is still finding his sea legs as a public figure; 31-year-old Georges St-Pierre, a Canadian who has battled injuries and a nice-guy personality which makes him easy to like but not as easy to publicize in the TMZ age; and heavyweight Cain Velasquez, the son of Mexican immigrants, who regained the UFC title from Junior Dos Santos in December.

UFC boss Dana White has the most compelling personality of all of them, so maintaining the push to introduce the sport to people who haven't checked it out hasn't arguably been as fluid of late. Thus, another push to get UFC into NYC, into MSG, perhaps takes on a touch more urgency.

White, though, says that the company is running on high octane. He sounds like he's still in a honeymoon stage regarding his "free" TV deal with Fox.

"We're two years in. ... It's the greatest move ever, " he said, "and we have another six years and I hope it goes for another 60."

Sports Business Journal reported when the UFC-Fox deal was announced that UFC would get $100 million a year to provide live and taped content on Fox, FX, Fox Deportes, Fuel and more.

White's insistence on providing content on social media platforms, like Facebook, and making his fighters and himself fixtures on Twitter -- he has 2.3 million followers -- makes him something of a sage in branding in this era. He logs mad miles on the UFC jet, placing events in far-flung locales; last calendar year, UFC ran in Brazil, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Canada, the UK, China and, of course, the U.S., so he's working to drop anchors all over the world.

What are the chances an anchor gets dropped in New York? "I'm bullish, cautiously optimistic," Marc Ratner, UFC's VP in charge of regulatory affairs, told me.

In the last five years, Ratner has trekked to the state capital 15 or so times to make the case to lift the professional MMA ban in NYC, talking to lawmakers about the upside to letting MMAers do their thing in New York and not letting Jersey have all the fun (and money). A bill to allow professional MMA in N.Y. has previously passed through the state senate and made it through the various committees in the assembly, but continually gets choked out when it gets to the desk of the Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver.

"I've been in his office every year," said Ratner, who is known to boxing fans as a former fixture on the Nevada State Athletic Commission, "and he's been as polite as can be. But for whatever reason, it doesn't get to the floor. If it gets to the floor and gets voted down, then we know we need to do more education. But if we got to the floor, I think we'd win and the governor would sign the bill if it got to his desk."

The legislature is in session until June, so there is time to get 'er done. Ratner is hoping MMA fans might hear some good news as early as April. Has he picked up on any signals that make him more optimistic this time around? Ratner said he has been in constant contact with the New York State Athletic Commission and chairwoman Melvina Lathan. Ratner says the commission is quite keen on adding MMA to the fold and notes that UFC in N.Y. would be an economic bounty. His studies indicate that a card at Madison Square Garden would bring between $8 million to $12 million to the area, with fans flooding to the building, staying in hotels, buying meals and drinks, and so forth.

Sellouts at the Garden, or maybe Barclays in Brooklyn, are a good bet, considering that an April 27 UFC date in Newark has sold 7,500 seats already, with 60 percent of buyers being New York residents.

I'm a fan of the product, so I cannot portray myself as an unbiased source on the subject. But I agree with Ratner: I don't fathom why the state allows and regulates one combat sport, boxing, and doesn't allow or regulate another, mixed martial arts.

"New York is a very important state for MMA," Ratner said. "It validates everything. It's going to be regulated there. It's not a question of, it's a question of when."

UFC has put MSG on hold in November

January, 22, 2013
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 ...

Follow Woods on Twitter.

Welcome to the Fightblog

September, 7, 2011
You either "get" boxing or you don't. It isn't like olives, where you can periodically taste one to see if it appeals to you.

Either you see the upside to two people in shorts punching each other in the head, or you don't.

I do.

I have since I was still leaving teeth under my pillow to get a payday from the tooth fairy.

Back then, it was Muhammad Ali, who I immediately took a shine to. I immediately sized him up as a stellar sportsman, and even more potent entertainer. As a kid I left the movie theater in Massachusetts shadowboxing in the streets after seeing "Rocky," and marveled at Marvin Hagler's menace when he ruled the middleweights in the 80s.

My fixation on the sweet science -- or, as I prefer to call it, "the savage science," because let's be honest here, the sweetness can get lost in the spray of blood and sweat ricocheting off the face of the fighter who just ate a vicious uppercut -- cemented itself in 1990, when heavyweight Buster Douglas shocked the world, but not himself, when he upset Brooklyn's Mike Tyson.

Boxing is a metaphor for life, and I identify with the guy who is fighting off the ropes, one eye shut, his trunks stained with blood, receiving more than he's giving. If he can plug on, so can I, and so can you.

That's where I'm coming from. So ... where's this blog going to? What can you expect to see in the NYFightblog? Admittedly, I am equally if not more so fascinated with the stories behind the athletes, what makes them tick, what circumstances they've overcome to get where they are, than the technical X's and O's of boxing.

You'll learn who the best and brightest fighters are in the New York area, discover the ones to watch for the future, read about the fights that take place in the region and the backroom battles between the power brokers who put them together.

So there will be a focus on the characters in boxing, and also Mixed Martial Arts, because after all, this is the Fightblog. MMA isn't legal in New York, but it's only a matter of time until it is. I'll have the trusty Flipcam with me, so I'll post videos you can watch at work when you're supposed to be working. I won't neglect the old-timers, either. Just because your hair is gray, it doesn't mean I don't want to hear what you have to say. (And I will keep crappy rhymes to a minimum.)

One more thing: you will see in the Fightblog the stories you want to see. My email address is You tell me what you want more or less of.

And away we go.