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Monday, December 22, 2014         

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UFC makes itself at home on Fox and in New Jersey

By Dan Gelston

AP Sports Writer

POSTED:


Let New York have skyscrapers, pinstripes, and Wall Street.

The UFC will again stage its latest big show off-Broadway — six miles away across the river at the Izod Center in New Jersey.

The day may come when New York will legalize MMA and the octagon will land in Madison Square Garden. Until then, New Jersey will continue to tease its Tri-State rival on the action it's missing with the first of two cards scheduled over the next two months.

New York remains a dream.

"New York will happen," UFC President Dana White said. "When New York happens, we'll put on a fight that will be huge. We'll do the Garden and it will be a huge blowout."

That can wait, and indeed it may have to. Regardless, White is too pumped for the mixed martial arts league's third network broadcast on Fox to dwell on the issue. He's hoping UFC's latest show will serve as an enticing appetizer for a loaded night of fights, headlined by Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Miguel Cotto on a pay-per-view boxing bout later Saturday.

After showcasing UFC on Fox with two big bouts that featured Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez and Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis, none of the fighters on the latest card are huge names known to a wide network audience.

Nate Diaz (15-7) fights Jim Miller (21-3) in the main event. Diaz, the former "Ultimate Fighter" winner coming off a huge win over Donald Cerrone, would earn a shot at the lightweight crown later this year with a victory.

"He's just been on a tear," White said.

Even with a victory, Miller may be a fight or two away from a title match.

Johny Hendricks (12-1) takes on Josh Koscheck (17-5) in another Fox headline bout. Hendricks becomes the No. 1 contender for the welterweight title with a win.

UFC has three hours of preliminary action being broadcast on FUEL TV beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Miller is a New Jersey native and his only three losses have come against a trio of the UFC's elite fighters.

"I don't really care where I'm fighting," Miller said. "I'm still fighting a tough, world-class opponent. So it really doesn't matter if we're fighting here in Jersey or in his home town. It is a little bit of an advantage not having to travel."

He wouldn't mind eventually packing his bags for New York.

Earlier this year, Evans and Jon Jones personally lobbied lawmakers to make New York the 46th state to legalize and regulate MMA. The bill passed the Senate last year but died in the Assembly, where some legislators said the sport is too violent and sets a bad example for children.

An MMA measure won approval from the Senate again last month, but just like 2011 it is stalled in the Assembly, where Speaker Sheldon Silver said he doesn't think there's "a groundswell of support" for the bill. "I have mixed feelings about it," he said in April.

While UFC waits, White has no problem running shows in New Jersey.

New Jersey was one of the first states that embraced UFC, and White credits cards at the Trump Taj Mahal for helping the company grow into a heavyweight in the sports world.

"Jersey is where it all started for us, meaning the Zuffa-owned UFC," White said. "Donald Trump, man. Back in the day when nobody wanted us, he got this thing before anybody did."

The organization moved up from casinos to holding UFC 32 in the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J. UFC returns to Atlantic City on June 22 for a card headlined by Gray Maynard vs. Clay Guida.

UFC is always planning for the next big thing. Running shows on Fox was a big boost toward proving UFC deserved a place among the stick-and-ball sports on the TV dial.

White called the collaboration with Fox a "work in progress." White said the business relationship has been a perfect fit ("we have a seven-year deal with these guys and I wish it was 17") but the TV presentation still needs some fine tuning.

"We're putting more fights on so we'll see what happens," White said.

But the mainstream acceptance comes with a price. More of a spotlight is shown on the company's missteps.

UFC heavyweight Alistair Overeem was recently denied a license to fight in Nevada after failing a drug test and pulling out of a championship bout this month. Overeem blamed a doctor-prescribed anti-inflammatory for failing the test. Nick Diaz tested positive for marijuana after his Feb. 4 loss to Carlos Condit in Las Vegas. Diaz has since filed a lawsuit against the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Nate Diaz said his brother has no interest in fighting and may stay retired.

While White would certainly choose other ways for his fighters to make headlines, he said the incidents are just minor problems compared to the obstacles UFC had to overcome to get to this point.

"This is just the stuff you guys have seen in the news and what's public," White said. "So much stuff happens here every day. We battle every single day. It's just part of doing business."

Anheuser-Busch, which forged an advertising alliance with UFC four years ago, recently warned there could be consequences for the relationship because of its unhappiness with various offensive remarks made by fighters in social media outlets and at press conferences.

"The problem we have with Anheuser-Busch is something that all the sports have," White said. "There are definitely things that need to be addressed in our company and we are addressing them."

White touched on a wide range of subjects during a phone interview with The Associated Press:

— On former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar's return to the WWE after an eight-year absence: "I knew Brock wasn't going to stick around and fight forever. But the time that Brock was here in the UFC, it was a great time. He brought a lot of excitement to the heavyweight division. At the end, he said it was time to move on. He jumped back to the WWE and I'm happy for him. People love to smash that guy. ... What he was able to do was amazing."

— On the overall health of UFC: "The next two years are more important than the last 10. We've got a lot of work to do. We've got to dial in all these programs from Fuel to FX to Fox. We've got to make the format perfect for Fox. We've got to make all the tweaks and fixing all the things on 'The Ultimate Fighter' on FX."

— On the next big location: "We're going to do a soccer stadium in Brazil with the right fight."






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