With destinations ranging from Toronto to London to Macau to Rio de Janeiro, the UFC has truly become a globetrotter. With a lengthy history in the United States, and its more recent expansion to almost every corner of the globe, it could be assumed that the UFC has left no market within the U.S. borders untapped. But that’s not quite true.
For one reason or another, the UFC has left fans in certain major U.S. cities waiting for the day they finally get to travel straight to the arena from their own home, rather than shelling out for airfare or packing for a road trip. Some markets are off limits for legal reasons, whereas others might sanction MMA, but feature other drawbacks, either known or unknown to the public, as to why they have yet to host a UFC event.
In the first category, there is the most obvious city void of MMA events: the Big Apple. In this case, dated legislation prohibiting professional MMA bouts in the state has yet to be overturned, despite the UFC’s best efforts and an ongoing lawsuit. This is a crown jewel of U.S. event locations for the UFC, and there’s no doubt that it’s firmly on the promotion’s radar.
It’s not that the UFC hasn’t gotten as close as possible to New York City. The promotion has twice visited East Rutherford, N.J., and has been to Newark on three occasions as well. Both Jersey cities are just a stone’s throw away from the Big Apple. But there’s a huge symbolic difference between an event at the IZOD Center in a neighboring New Jersey town and hosting an event at the pinnacle of combat sports, Madison Square Garden in New York City. One is just another in a long list of UFC events, while the other leaps into the realm of historic.
When fans think of MMA meccas, a few other logical potential sites for UFC events come to mind.
Carlos Condit, Jon Jones, Donald Cerrone, Leonard Garcia, Clay Guida, Diego Sanchez, Keith Jardine and, at one time, Rashad Evans. All have called Albuquerque, N.M., their training home. Yet, despite the array of fighters training out of Greg Jackson’s camp, the UFC has never visited the camp’s hometown, which also happens to be one of the largest U.S. cities by population to never host a UFC event. Zuffa has dipped its toes into the New Mexico waters, though, when it held WEC 32 in Rio Rancho, a neighboring city to the northwest of Albuquerque.
Having lived in the area for nearly ten years now, this writer can attest to the popularity of MMA among Albuquerque residents. The area’s casinos host King of the Cage and Jackson’s MMA events that see huge turnouts, and the local bars airing UFC pay-per-views routinely fill up, especially when local fighters such as Diego Sanchez compete.
The WEC event drew 4,648, which is more than the UFC’s most recent trip to San Jose (4,250) and almost equals the attendance at the last venture to Atlantic City (4,652). Certainly, the UFC name and a venue closer to the heart of Albuquerque would bring out even more fans. It might not be a pay-per-view host like New York City, but it would be the perfect setting for a UFC on FX or UFC on Fuel TV event.
Finally, there’s a hotbed of MMA in the Midwest that has seen many a top regional show, but never a UFC event: Kansas City, Kan.
Kansas City is the home to Titan Fighting Championships, and even more importantly, Invicta Fighting Championships. The all-female promotion has put the city and its Memorial Hall on the MMA map. With enough of an interest in MMA to play home to not just one, but two major regional promotions, it does appear as a glaring omission in the UFC’s list of destinations. And, much like Albuquerque, Kansas City ranks as one of the most populous cities in the nation to never host a UFC event.
Again, like Albuquerque, Kansas City would present an ideal setting for a smaller UFC show, such as the UFC on FX or UFC on Fuel TV series.
Obviously, these aren’t the only locales that have never seen an Octagon. Arguments can be made for San Antonio, St. Louis and others. Although the UFC’s focus has gone global, these cities, much closer to the UFC’s own home base in Las Vegas, still cry out for their own events.
For some, it’s a matter of cutting through red tape and overturning outdated legislation, and for others it might involve improving their commissions or simply rallying together to win the bid the next time a contest such as the Harley-Davidson Hometown Throwdown—which ironically enough sent the UFC to Florida, a state with an athletic commission that has come under fire for poor officiating—comes around. Regardless, these cities cannot be overlooked forever. One day, they should get their turn.
Photo: UFC Octagon (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)