LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 24: UFC fighter Josh Neer (R) battles with UFC fighter Gleison Tibau (L) during their Lightweight "Swing" bout at UFC 104: Machida vs. Shogun at Staples Center on October 24, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Josh Neer;Gleison Tibau
Mixed martial arts star Georges St. Pierre worked out Thursday in a gym on the eighth floor of a Manhattan office building.
He's among the featured athletes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship video game, where his character can compete at Madison Square Garden. He was the main attraction this week for a news conference at Radio City Music Hall. And he attracted droves of cameras for that final workout before his welterweight title fight Saturday night.
A fight that's taking place ... in New Jersey.
Sanctioned in all but a handful of states, mixed martial arts has yet to force the New York state Assembly to tap out, although that submission may be close at hand.
The state ledger is rife with red ink, and Gov. David Paterson included legalizing MMA in his budget proposal in December as a way to help fill a gaping deficit.
A study conducted two years ago estimated that an MMA competition in upstate New York would inject more than $5 million into the local economy, while an event in New York City could more than double that number — significant considerations for a state slashing jobs in virtually all sectors in an effort to balance the budget.
"It's not something brand new. It's a reality, and for New York, the greatest state ever in my opinion, and the Mecca of boxing, why wouldn't we want to embrace the martial arts?" Melvina Lathan, head of the New York State Athletic Commission, told The Associated Press.
The fight Saturday night at the Prudential Center in Newark quickly sold out, headlined by St. Pierre's title defense against Dan Hardy and an interim heavyweight title fight between Shane Carwin and Frank Mir. The live gate is expected to surpass $4 million.
Meanwhile, New York will have to make do with a viewing party at Radio City, where hundreds of advance tickets had been sold by midweek for the closed-circuit telecast.
"Extremely frustrating, but we're patient," Lathan said, "and while we're waiting we're getting our rules and regulations in place. Once we're given the OK, we'll be ready to run."
Much of that frustration is political.
Paterson is embroiled in his own troubles, and the state Assembly has struggled to reach agreement on just about anything. Add to that the staunch opposition of Assemblyman Bob Reilly, who is against the sport on moral grounds, and it's clear the fight isn't over just yet.
"Listen, I knew we had to get out there and educate them, whether it's politicians or others in the sport, and New York is one of those places," UFC president Dana White said. "It's going to be voted on very soon with the budget that's going to come up, and as long as it stays in the budget, I'm very confident that it's going to happen."
It can't happen soon enough for zealous fans who packed open news conferences and descended on publicity junkets all week in Manhattan. Among the events scheduled was a launch party at an upscale club for the new edition of the UFC video game, in which Madison Square Garden is absent after making a cameo in last year's version.
It's unclear whether the Garden will return to the popular game if the sport is sanctioned in New York, but one thing is clear: MSG wants to host the real thing soon.
"There's nothing that excites New York fans like a big-time event," said Scott O'Neil, the president of Madison Square Garden Sports. "And this certainly — whenever you have a big mixed martial arts event, a big UFC event — it rises to that level."
O'Neil declined to say whether MSG was lobbying on behalf of the sport, but he pointed out that the Garden has an agreement with Bellator Fighting Championships, a smaller MMA promotion, to stage fights at two facilities it owns: The Chicago Theatre and the Wang Theatre in Boston.
"The Madison Square Garden name is synonymous with the greatest sports and entertainment events in U.S. history," Bellator founder Bjorn Rebney said. "We are thrilled to be aligning our brand with these magnificent brands."
Smaller theaters in Chicago and Boston are a different story than the crown jewel of New York, though, something White and the UFC have realized from the start.
They've been working for years on convincing politicians that it makes sense to regulate MMA and grant its fighters the opportunity to fight in the same venue — at least in name — as boxing champions like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson.