Ty Reynolds @MMAtylander
For nineteen years the state of New York was the Canaan Valley of the MMA universe. Home of New York City, the largest media market in the United States, Madison Square Garden, the traditional epicenter of boxing, and many other major cities and arenas, The Empire State was destined to be the Promised Land for the Ultimate Fighting Championship and eventually mixed martial arts, as a whole. There was never any doubt that this was the destination. It was only a matter of time.
It was also a matter of significant struggle.
By the time Dana White had convinced Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta to purchase the UFC in 2001, the organization and sport had not been permitted to hold an event in the state of New York for roughly four years. For fifteen years Dana White, the Fertittas and the UFC, along with numerous fighters, coaches, officials, and other figures associated with or occupying a space in the world of MMA petitioned the New York State Assembly to review, and inevitably change, its policy on mixed martial arts competition within its jurisdiction.
Not incessantly at first. There were other issues, like survival, that required immediate and undivided attention. Finally, with the success of The Ultimate Fighter in 2005 and the subsequent expansion of both the UFC and the sport as an industry, New York was once again a feasible target and all efforts began to be aimed at penetrating its borders. Year after year, efforts would be increased, hopes would rise and hopes would crash. Every new year would bring a declaration from Dana White that it would be the year that the UFC finally entered MSG, and yet every year The Culinary Union, sworn enemies of the Fertittas, and their very own corrupt politician Sheldon Silver would stall the sport’s attempts.
What is essentially a decade passed, and nothing had changed. Repeatedly stifled within the bureaucracy, it seemed as Dana White would be forced to play the role of Moses as he could see the Promised Land, but would never be permitted to enter it.
Assemblyman Silver, however, was finally about to face the consequences of years of corruption. Arrested in 2015, Silver, one of the most influential political figures in the state, was forced to resign from his position as Assembly Speaker and was eventually found guilty of federal corruption charges in the same year. With Silver removed and sentenced to prison by May of 2015, the sport was legalized within New York less than a year later in March of 2016, followed by the prompt scheduling of an event later that fall in Madison Square Garden.
On November 12, 2016, UFC 205 ended the near two decade absence of MMA in New York, unleashing an electric driven celebration of all that the sport had grown into over years with one predestined night of fights. Highlighted by UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor’s history making performance in which he defeated Eddie Alvaraz and beceom the UFC’s first dual-champion, the event was a nearly unprecedented success. The return had been wildly successful, both in terms of spectacle and profit.
New York, especially the City, had proven to be every bit as lucrative and rewarding as expected. It’s possible that the greatest part of the night was the feeling that it was all only the beginning.
Unfortunately, the worst part of that night was also the fact that it was all only just beginning…
Nearly three months to the day later, UFC 208, which took place in Brooklyn, NY at the Barclays Center, proved to be one of the most abysmal events in the almost twenty-five year existence of Ultimate Fighting Championship and revealed the illusion-shattering truth about New York’s highly questionable compatibility with professional mixed martial arts.
While it is entirely fair to say that the overall excitement of the fights were lacking and would’ve been considered a failure from that perspective anywhere in the country or world, absence of spectacle cannot be used to excuse the real source of UFC 208’s utter disappointment. That can only be blamed on the state of New York itself, more specifically the NYSAC.
Simply put, the New York State Athletic Commission’s performance at UFC 208 was atrocius and not up to par with the standards of overseeing a professional combat sports event. The failures exhibited existed in a multitude of different areas such as judging, officiating, and even ethical procedure and ranged in severity from frustrating but common to wildly egregious and unacceptable.
First it was Douglas Crosby, a usual suspect, that gave all three rounds to a clearly defeated Phillipe Nover. Had one judge given another round to Nover, Rick Glenn very well would’ve been robbed of a deserved victory. Crosby would then double down on this exercise of professional mockery by sitting as judge for the next bout, which saw Nik Lentz, a known associate of Crosby’s, take on Islam Makhachev, and was the only judge to not score a single 10-8 for Makhachev in his clean sweep of Lentz. While Crosby turned in another 30-27, Chris Lee and Eric Colon both saw the fight as 30-25.
Not only did Crosby return what are very likely to be faulty scorecards after consecutive bouts, he clearly ignored a conflict of interest by judging Lentz’s fight, a complaint leveled at him in the past. The real issue isn’t Crosby’s ineptness, though. It’s the NYSAC’s willingness to even have him on the payroll.
As the night went on, small failures in responsibility began to pile up, as in the failure to follow through on enforcing clearly outlined changes in rules, like extending straight fingers towards an opponents face, and then a return to poor judging that almost cost Dustin Poirier a deserved victory, and back to poor officiating, before another inexcusably major failure in judging.
Derek Brunson at worst took at least one, probably two, and possibly three rounds from the legendary Anderson Silva in the co-main event of the night, by using takedowns, striking in the clinch, and overall control only to hear scores of 29-28, 29-28, and a mind-meltingly bad card of 30-27, all go in favor of Silva. A split-decision win would have been hard to defend for Silva. A unanimous one is a travesty. But even now, the nightmare still wasn’t quite yet over for the NYSAC. Their climax of unmitigated hackery was still to come.
Todd Anderson should be barred from officiating any type of combat sport, especially at the professional level, for an unspecified length and should remain exiled from the cage until he can prove he has the ability to effectively perform the essential duties of his role, most importantly to protect the fighters. His dumbfounding willingness to allow Germaine de Randamie to not only land one stunning blow to Holly Holm after the 2nd round had ended, but to repeat the foul at the end of the 3rd without deducting a point from the Dutch fighter is professionally inexcusable. Not only did he put Holm’s health at risk, thus failing in his most crucial role, he basically handed de Randamie the UFC Women’s Featherweight title by allowing her to carry an undeserved point to the scorecards, which would be the difference. Instead of an appropriate score of 47-47 leading to a draw, de Randamie was awarded the victory with scores of 48-47. Todd Anderson’s presence in cage resulted in everything that a referee should be trained to avoid, outside of a serious injury, which quite frankly, he did nothing to prevent. Sheer luck was the only reason that catastrophe was averted.
Again, this reflects on the poor state of the NYSAC’s ability to effectively govern over high-level exercises in organized combat. The entire disastrous night was a reflection of such. The only reality of the evening that will prove to be worse than the Commission’s performance is the fact that there is very little chance any drastic measures will be taken to correct the mistake in the future. As always, the Commission will hold sway over evaluating their own performance and any judgement passed will come from it’s own inner workings.
As always, nothing will change. At least not if the decision is left up to the normal processes.
After a display of professional buffoonery on that type of National Lampoon level, however, it’s time the that UFC take a stand. For years they have been held hostage by governing bodies that hold real legal power over the promotion’s ability to right the inevitable wrongs that are consistently being inflicted upon the health and career trajectories of the UFC’s fighters. Outside of pleading to the same Commissions guilty of any specific wrong in the first place, a route that is predictably futile in nearly all instances, there is no recourse, no protection, for fighters or the promotion. The Commissions, as inept as they are, are untouchable, and what’s worse, they know it.
Todd Anderson knows that, too. So does Douglas Crosby. Referees and Judges are as immune as Committee members. The next time the UFC holds an event in New York, it is more than likely both of these unqualified liabilities will hold the same roles they held at UFC 208.
It’s time for the UFC to flee the Promised Land.
The NYSAC may have just proven that out of all ill-prepared Commissions encountered through the years, they are the worst. UFC 208 was such a horrifying display of how precisely inadequate the NYSAC’s ability to suitably function in it’s role of overseeing and protecting trained fighters really and truly is, that the state should not be allowed the privilege of hosting a UFC event until the company and its heads have been thoroughly convinced that the personnel chosen and assigned by the Commission are as properly instructed and trained as reasonably possible. In fact, the UFC should demand that their standards, not the standards of the state, be met or exceeded before even considering organizing an event within New York again. It’s the only responsible option available. The NYSAC cannot be given another chance to perform so poorly. Not at a UFC event, where the serious injury or death of a fighter will take on exponential consequences.
Money will be lost, this is undeniable, but a precedent will be set that other areas of the country will take notice of. If New York, the most desirable market in the country, the final standout to the sport, the de facto Promised Land of MMA is suddenly no longer immune to the consequences of their failures, and stripped of their privilege to not only oversee a UFC event, but to profit from them, it will only be a matter of applying enough pressure for a long enough time before they all begin to yield to the UFC’s demands. They must be forced to refine their skills and to begin holding their own organization and all who function within it and as an arm of it as accountable as they do the fighters and organizations they oversee.
As of this moment, UFC 210 is scheduled for April 8, 2016 in Buffalo, New York, the same city that the organization was hoping to hold UFC 12 in 1997 before being legally denied the ability to compete in the state. Twenty years ago, the state of New York informed the UFC and the entire sport of mixed martial arts that their practices were not up to standard and that New York would not abide by them within their lands. Now it is time for the UFC to inform the state of New York that now, twenty years later, once again approaching an event in Buffalo, that the ability of the NYSAC, the designated governing body, does not meet the standards of safety and professionally efficiency that is demanded by the UFC, thus forcing the company to abandon it’s plans in Buffalo and any other New York location until the state can satisfy the promotion. Not out of revenge, but out of necessity. Any symbolism associated can be attributed to the deliciously cruel variations of fate…
Send the same message they sent our entire sport when it wasn’t good enough for them. Make it clear that now it’s our sport that doesn’t have any use for them.
Tell them that until they’re ready to meet our standards, we’re never going to come again.