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Road to UFC 205: How the UFC Took 20 Years to Get to Madison Square Garden

By Ken Boehlke

It’s been a long, frustrating, winding road, but finally, in just two weeks time, the first MMA event in the state of New York since 1995 will take place at Madison Square Garden.

The UFC, the world’s premiere mixed martial arts promotion has been trying to bring its biggest stars to the Empire State since the moment the organization was born. UFC 7 was held in Buffalo and was easily the most attended UFC event in the promotion’s short history. They planned to return just two years later, but things got complicated, and turned into a tangled web that was finally broken last March.

UFC 12 in 1997 was originally scheduled to take place in Buffalo, NY, but then Governor George Pataki banned all MMA in the state, forcing the event to be moved to Alabama.

The state with bans on public smoking, trans-fats, and even large sized sodas held firm with their ban on MMA despite multiple attempts by lobbyists to lift it. The first attempt to overturn the ban was brought to the New York legislature in 2008 by Assemblyman Steven Englebright. It passed in the Senate in 2008. It passed there again in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. But in each and every one of those years, the bill stalled in the New York State Assembly. In many cases, the bill never even made it as far as getting on the Assembly agenda.

So why not lift the ban? Why was the growing sport’s massive popularity in the other 49 states and internationally so heinous in New York? Let’s hear from some of the actual elected officials who voted against lifting the ban.

“You have two nearly naked hot men rolling on top of one another, trying to dominate each other. Just in case you don’t know, that’s gay porn with a different ending.” – Daniel O’Donnel.

“I understand this is very, very popular with folks but there are many things that people might enjoy that we do not actually think are a good thing. I was quoted as saying if we wanted to charge a fee for public hanging there would be regrettably some segment of our society that actually would show up but we don’t do that.” – Deborah Glick

And that’s just the beginning. Obstructionist lawmakers used scared tactics such as constantly calling it “cage fighting” or “human cock-fighting.” They cited domestic violence statistics that were handpicked to support their argument. And in some cases, they even compared the sport to slave fights on plantations pre-Civil War.

But finally, none of it mattered. On March 22, 2016, after seven straight years of clearing the state Senate, the State Assembly of New York finally also agreed to overturn the ban.

A few weeks later, the UFC announced they would bring UFC 205 to Madison Square Garden, and rumors swirled for months about who could possibly grace the card. Fights started coming together, but the card lacked that special match-up necessary for such a monumental event.

That changed September 27 when the UFC officially announced the main event would feature a lightweight championship bout between titleholder Eddie Alvarez and the UFC’s biggest star Conor McGregor. They also announced title fights between Stephen Thompson and Tyron Woodley and Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

It instantly became the most stacked card in UFC history. The road is almost over, 19 years in the making. The UFC returns to the great state of New York, and one of the most revered arenas in the world, Madison Square Garden.

UFC at MSG was always going to be a can’t miss event for fight fans. But now, with McGregor, Alvarez, Woodley, Thompson, Frankie Edgar, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Miesha Tate, Donald Cerrone, and New York’s MMA hero Chris Weidman Khabib Nurmagomedov on the card, this is truly appointment viewing for anyone who calls themselves a fan of sports.

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