It is a topic that has plenty of debate behind it; is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ever going to make its way to New Mexico? Often considered the MMA “Mecca”, Albuquerque has been long awaiting the opportunity to host the sports biggest and best promotion for some time and the 14-thousand plus seats of The Pit have longed to host a show capable of a sellout.
So what would a UFC event look like if the UFC in fact put Albuquerque on their radar for 2014?
In the interest of fun and speculative intrigue, here is a look at what could be including fighters who may be included, what type of show it would be and other possible scenarios stemming from a potential event.
Undoubtedly the UFC would want the state’s premier venue and that is the University of New Mexico’s premier arena, “The Pit”. It is often considered one of the hardest places to play for opposing college schools and has legendary history within the confines of the building. The location is perfect if the UFC has high hopes of selling over 10-thousand tickets and the arena hasn’t seen those kind of numbers since the days of Johnny Tapia. Undoubtedly, a show with the reputable name of the UFC is going to sellout as it would be one of the biggest moments of the year for the state of New Mexico especially in the demographic of 18-35 year olds.
While Rio Rancho’s Santa Ana Star Center could be a prime location, the venue seats less than 8-thousand people and the UFC traditionally seeks out big money earning live gates. The Pit’s seating accommodation also makes the most logical sense as the stadium seating style of the arena means there won’t be “bad seats”. When the arena hosted MMA Fight Pit in 2011, even the least expensive seats had clear views down into the cage and had projection screens to catch the detail action if needed. With the UFC’s immense budget and production quality, the fans in attendance would be experiencing the very pinnacle of an MMA experience.
A dark horses for a venue who could host a smaller event is Tingley Coliseum but with the Santa Ana Star Center and “The Pit” available, it is hard to imagine the UFC choosing to go there.
The easy choice here is to name Carlos Condit as the logical choice to headline the show as he is currently the best fighter in the world who calls New Mexico his home. Condit is two fights removed from his World Title Fight with Georges St. Pierre where he arguably put the Champion through the toughest five rounds of his career. Condit’s inclusion on the fight card ensures the hardcore fan base’s attention and would attract out-of-town fans as well-being that the “Natural Born Killer” is amongst the most popular fighters in all of MMA. Condit is the kind of name that would garnish the excitement outside of New Mexico to make a potential fight night appealing to fight fans who don’t mind making the small getaway to Albuquerque. In fact, Condit may be the only fighter from the area who has that drawing power.
In terms of popularity, there may not be a better fit for the fight card then Diego Sanchez. Coming off a “Fight of the Year” performance that Sanchez arguably also won the “Round of the Year” against Gilbert Melendez, his stock couldn’t be higher and he would definitely bring in several demographics into the venue. Sanchez is well-known throughout New Mexico and he garnishes attention from the old-school fans and the new era fight fans as well.
If ticket sales are a priority than the state’s biggest regional draw is Holly Holm and should the UFC hand “The Preacher’s Daughter” her UFC golden ticket in the near future, a bout in her hometown would definitely bring fans in the thousands. She has already shown her ability to draw a big crowd without any star power on her headlined fight cards, now imagine Holm as a featured fighter on a UFC fight card against another top name and popular opponent. Holm helped Bellator 91 put more than two thousand fans in the seats of the Santa Ana Star Center and it should come as no surprise that Bellator 97 and 105 didn’t sell anywhere near that event’s totals.
There are several other fighters who’d make sense to be featured on a potential UFC fight card in Albuquerque. Jon Jones would be a popular pick but his participation would take away the possibility of the fights being free on either FOX or FOX Sports 1 making the event a mandatory pay-per-view. The UFC is unlikely to enter a small media market to throw a PPV event and that would take out “Bones” from consideration. While “Bones” does in fact base his training out of the area, he isn’t homegrown which has pro’s and con’s. The pro is that Jon Jones is the biggest star in the sport and will draw out-of-state fans but the con is that he doesn’t have a hardcore pack of fans to come from closer areas in the manner of Condit and Sanchez.
John Dodson would also be a hot pick for being included as a breakout period of the last two years have placed Dodson in the mix for being one of the areas most well-known athletes. His fun personality and exciting style has been broadcasted several times on free events which is what a potential local show would be meaning that he’d be an easy pick to be placed on another. His fight would also come with potentially huge implications as every fight from here on out inch Dodson closer to another title fight.
Diego Brandao, Rustam Khabilov, Erik Perez and Frank Mir aren’t fighters from the area but they are fighters who train out of Albuquerque’s Jackson-Winklejohn fight camp and would definitely bring in crowds for the promotional build-up to the event. Each fighter is very popular and highly ranked in their respective divisions. In fact Khabilov could arguably be less than a year away from top contender fights in the 155-pound division. Two wildcard inclusions could be Tim Means and Damacio Page who in their own right have huge followings. Both fighters are on the rebound tour on the regional scenes and both have earned highlight reel wins under the Legacy FC promotion. Means fought much of his career in New Mexico fighting for King of the Cage so a recognizable face is surely to bring attention of the passionate local fight fans.
Often the UFC will pick up some local fighters to add to their roster in preparations of venturing into a new market. The timing of the event will make a huge difference but there are fighters currently on the regional circuit who could get the call on a “right time, right place” scenario. Lutrell’s MMA has two fighters, Kevin Croom and Andres Quintana who have big-time talent and could be marching themselves to UFC opportunities sooner rather than later. Judgement MMA’s Adrian Cruz is another name that has the talent and also has an immense fan base. The easy bet picks though may come into the UFC’s shallowest division. The UFC’s Flyweight division is debatably the most undeveloped of the men’s weight classes and that could leave an opening for three of the states very best fighters who compete at 125-pounds. Nick Urso, Joby Sanchez and Ray Borg all fight for different gyms, have competed under different promotional banners and all represent the new wave of Flyweights on their way to the sports brightest lights. Any of those three, possibly even all three could be fighters looked at closely by the UFC if they came to the area.
There is no question that the Jackson-Winklejohn gym would be front and center if the UFC came to town as they currently have more then a dozen fighters within the UFC ranks. Undoubtedly the gym would have at least half the card filled with fighters associated with the camp on the fight card. The booming success of the gym is one of the main reasons why our state is on the MMA map and the UFC brass treat the gym as such, consistently placing the gym’s fighters in marquee fights.
Greg Jackson is a main-stay in the corner of so many UFC fighters and his participation alongside striking guru Mike Winklejohn will be huge for the area as their names will only become more amplified in the community. Add in coaches Brandon Gibson and Mike Valle as two coaches who have been cornering UFC fighters seemingly every month who will gain so much from the promotion in-town. The area’s other very talented and respected coaches will also have their chance to shine in the UFC spotlight.
Let’s not forget gyms like Lutrell’s MMA, Judgement MMA and FIT NHB as gyms who will play part in the show. Even a smaller gym like the Chavez Dojo will play their role and the opportunities that could arise from being part of a UFC event could do wonders from a business perspective.
The Economic Boom
Having major events in cities do wonders for the economic bottom-line. It was once stated by UFC President Dana White that when doing a 2011 show in Ohio, that the UFC would bring the city an 8-million dollar economic boom and financial experts have estimated that UFC events can bring a city anywhere between six to twelve million dollars depending on the culture of the host city.
From hotels to restaurants, fun attractions to travel expenses (airports, gas stations) and you have money coming into the city in droves. While the UFC won’t boom the economy more than the International Balloon Fiesta, it would be a great way for the city of Albuquerque as well as surrounding areas to really supplement their revenue during the recession we are still living in. The state of New Mexico loves their MMA and having the biggest show in the sport make their way to the area would be great for the local scene and could spark some life into the regional circuit.
Gyms would see a rise in attention as big time events tend to spark interest in fans who would like to pursue training the sport they love to see. The long-lasting benefit from such a show could go beyond speculative measurement. Plus, with a successful showing the UFC could make Albuquerque one of its normal stops on their yearly schedule meaning the booming economic effect would be much more than just a weekend explosion of revenue. Imagine if the UFC brought a fan expo to the home of MMA’s premier gym, the potential gain from that sort of event would be tremendous.
What do you think fight fans? Did we leave any fighters out that you’d like to see on a UFC fight card? What about the location? How many fight fans would love to be part of the potential first event live inside the famous “Pit” arena? Let us all cross our fingers and hope that one day it all could be a reality instead of imaginative speculation.