UFC still fighting for a place in NY's heart . . . is it getting closer?
NOV 22, 2013 3:43a ET
NEW YORK (AP) - Dominick Cruz expected to squeeze in at least a run - and maybe grab a beer - during his two-day trip in New York. The UFC champ, after all, isn't much for sightseeing.
"What's there to see," he asked.
Just about everything a tourist could want is in the Big Apple, but not even Broadway has a stage big enough for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. UFC fights are still locked out among NYC sights.
Cruz, the 150-pound champion, and fellow fighters Renan Barao and Ricardo Lamas were in Manhattan on Wednesday at a restaurant not far from Madison Square Garden to kick off promotion for UFC's Super Bowl weekend show. But the news conference is as close as the MMA's dominant organization will get to having its fighters inside state borders. New Jersey is still home to the must-watch events in the East - just like it will be for UFC 169 on Feb. 1 - while UFC and New York continue to grapple over whether to allow fights in this state.
"I'd love to fight here," Lamas said. "I love New York. I think it's kind of ridiculous that it isn't legal. I'm kind of dumbfounded by that fact."
So are the promoters, fans and even plenty of politicians who would love the kind of economic boost UFC brings to most every city it visits.
UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta said this year that once the sport is legalized and regulated in New York, his group will hold at least four events a year for the next three years, more than half in cities across upstate New York.
With New York idle, UFC continues to make the Garden State it's marquee fight home on the East, and the February card is yet another milestone event in its 20-year history. UFC will hold its Super Bowl weekend show at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., just a few miles from MetLife Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played Feb. 2.
Cruz will defend his bantamweight championship against Barao, Jose Aldo puts his featherweight title on the line against Lamas, and heavyweights Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem will slug it out.
The spotlight will shine on UFC - and the fighters insisted they are ready.
"The city's going to be packed," Lamas said. "All my friends and family that wanted to go are having trouble finding hotel rooms."
Cruz, out of San Diego, loves the NFL and is a fan of the Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III. With the Redskins in last place in the NFC East, Cruz knows he'll have to cheer for another team in the Super Bowl - even if he has to bundle up.
"After I win," Cruz said, "I plan on going."
No doubt, the Prudential Center also will be jam packed, and A-list celebrities in town for Super Bowl parties will surely swing by to meet up with UFC president Dana White and be seen at one of the cards of the year.
"I'm not bothered by big crowds, I'm not bothered by a lot of people watching," Lamas said. "If anything, I perform better under pressure."
There's little pressure - just heavy anticipation, about when the UFC can move across the river to New York.
The Senate in March approved a bill to legalize and regulate the combat sport that includes boxing, judo, wrestling and kickboxing. The Assembly has blocked legislation for years. However, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in March he now expected MMA to be legalized, but he wasn't sure when.
"They'd be crazy not to," Cruz said. "We're just sitting and waiting. They're just hurting themselves. It makes no sense to lock it out."
The issue for several years split a Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-dominated Assembly. However, the bill passed the Senate now ruled by a bipartisan coalition, and backers claim there is enough support among Assembly Democrats to pass it if their leaders permit the floor vote.
All UFC can do is wait.
"We've just got to get in," Lamas said. "They'll see, it's a win-win."