'Exhilarated' UFC planning two New York cards this year following assembly approval of MMA

Marc Ratner, the longtime Nevada athletic commission head who oversaw the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s long-sought attempt to stage fights in New York, compared the campaign to an "eight-year pregnancy."

"Finally, the baby was born tonight," Ratner said Tuesday after the New York State Assembly passed legislation to legalize and regulate professional mixed martial arts.

Ratner said he was "exhilarated," by the development after years of "road trips" to argue to the New York politicians that MMA fighting operated under formal rules and was in the best business interest of the state.

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The sport needs only Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s expected signature to become realized, with UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta saying in a conference call,  “It's going to be an epic moment for our sport and our company ... when we debut at Madison Square Garden.”

Fertitta said he’s planning two cards in New York state this year and ultimately wants to stage four UFC cards per year in the state, acknowledging that live-gate records are expected.

“For us, the New York market is the biggest ... obviously, the biggest media market," Fertitta said.

The New York State Athletic Commission also needs to adopt official regulations for MMA fighting, and Fertitta said he was hopeful the commission would simply adopt unified MMA rules already established and observed by other members of the national Assn. of Boxing Commissions.

A fight can be staged 120 days after Cuomo signs the bill into law.

UFC President Dana White, after previously posting a map of the U.S. with all of the other 49 states who’d authorized MMA colored red with New York white, colored in the Empire State in a Tuesday night Twitter post and added a smiley face.

Culinary union Local No. 226 in Las Vegas, which opposed the non-union policy of Fertitta’s at his Station Casino properties in Nevada, hired a lobbying company to convince New York politicians to keep MMA banned in the state following prior legislation that stemmed from the “no-rules” type of cage fighting that preceded Fertitta’s purchase of the company.

The law deprived UFC of mega-events at Madison Square Garden, Brooklyn's Barclays Center and other venues despite the state’s participation of former light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones and ex-middleweight champion Chris Weidman.

Weidman learned of the Assembly’s passage while practicing MMA with retired former welterweight champion Matt Serra, and they rejoiced in a post also seen on Twitter.

Some residue of the long adversarial battle were still at play Tuesday, as one politician chided MMA fighting as “gay porn” before the vote while others alleged that fighters risk brain trauma and that the sport caters to a group of violent Donald Trump supporters.

It was “shocking how the [political] opponents painted our sport and our athletes," Fertitta said.

Weidman labeled those claims ignorant, “ridiculous,” and “an embarrassment.”

“There’s bad apples in every job. To say it’s worse than in any other sport is kind of a joke,” said Weidman.

UFC executive Lawrence Epstein noted that company fighters participate in a comprehensive study of brain activity at a Cleveland Clinic facility in Las Vegas.

“This is an education process,” Epstein said. “Logic and the facts were winners.”

New York’s Jones had a turbulent 2015 in which it was revealed he tested positive for cocaine before a January title defense over Daniel Cormier. He was then stripped of his belt and escaped serious legal consequences after injuring a pregnant woman in a car crash. Jones returns to the octagon hoping to regain his belt from champion Daniel Cormier April 23 in Las Vegas.

Weidman will seek to recapture his belt June 4 at the Forum against champion Luke Rockhold, and said it’d be a dream to defend the belt in the UFC’s New York debut, likely in the fall, a card that Fertitta said could also mark Ronda Rousey’s return.

“We want to play for the hometown crowd,” Fertitta said in promising to deliver a talent-stacked debut card in New York, adding that an upstate New York venue, perhaps Utica, could land the second card of 2016.

“The minute the vote passed, we started calling arenas.”   

The UFC originally tried to stage an April 23 card at Madison Square Garden before a judge’s ruling altered the company’s attempt to make that happen through an injunction.

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire

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