Madison Square Garden Has Double-Booked the UFC and Gennady Golovkin for April

Fightland Blog

By Nick Wong

Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Zuffa LLC

The Madison Square Garden has gone down in history as the Mecca of Boxing, though that moniker may be less true as of late with most of the sport’s major bouts now taking place in Las Vegas. On April 23rd of this year, its been reported that the Garden is making another stake at that claim by booking one of the sport’s biggest stars, Gennady Golovkin, in his upcoming title defense.

The Golovkin camp is currently eyeing a unification bout with the newly crowned WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders who won the strap from Andy Lee last month. Talks between K2 Promoter Tom Loeffler and Saunders’s promoter Frank Warren have reportedly been in the works, but nothing official made as of yet. Should the unification bout with Saunders fall through, the most likely candidate next in line is IBF mandatory Tureano Johnson, who gave an impressive showing on the undercard of Golovkin/Lemieux pay-per-view back in October. Either match would be an acceptable fill-in bout for what most fans hope to be the eventual showdown between Golovkin and WBC champ Canelo Álvarez.

All of that sounds fine and well except for one problem: the MSG has also been booked by the UFC for return of Jon Jones at UFC 198.

As we reported back in September, the UFC made a bold move into New York by booking one of the city’s biggest venues before the sport has been officially sanctioned to operate in the state. For those catching up, mixed-martial-arts is currently banned in the state of New York due to the “Combative Sport Law”, which by most reports “is so badly written that neither ordinary persons nor state officials are able to say with any certainty what it permits and what it prohibits.” New York is currently he only state that does not allow professional MMA contests.  

However, the UFC has seemingly found a loophole to sanction bouts in alliance with the World Kickboxing Association, which according to the mandate, is allowed to hold its contests. While state officials have stated that they will not allow the WKA to sanction mixed-martial-arts bouts, the UFC has argued that stance as unfair since the state has allowed them to work alongside Glory and K-1 in the past, despite those organizations’ feature of multi-disciplined competition. Thus, the UFC is running on that argument since it is a licensed WKA promoter, and deepened that stance by reportedly signing a contract with the MSG to hold the date in April.

In light of recent news, however, it’s unclear how well that stance will hold in court. According to Jake Donovon of the BoxingScene, Loeffler has placed a hold for the venue on the same date for its star pupil, Gennady Golovkin. While “placing a hold” doesn’t necessarily guarantee the fight will be made there, it does come as interesting that a hold was even made given the original booking from the UFC.

According to Bloody Elbow, VP of Public Relations for the UFC Dave Sholler confirmed that the organization has “first hold” on the venue, meaning if they’re able to use the loophole through the WKA, or if professional MMA is legalized in the coming months, then the Golovkin fight will have to find another stage. This was also confirmed with a representative of the MSG over the phone this morning, and according to them, it’s common practice for a venue to have more than one “hold” on a date in the case that one event falls through due to unforeseen circumstances. If professional MMA isn’t green-lighted in NY, then it will most likely move to the Honda Center in Anaheim, according to Jeremy Botter of the Bleacher Report.

There are some blogs out there speculating that the current approach of using the WKA sanction may actually hurt prospects of the event taking place, claiming that a passing a new law legalizing professional MMA would reset the whole system, and sanctioning responsibilities would fall back onto the New York State Athletic Commission, invalidating the WKA’s current sanctioning rights. This would allow for a “black out” period in which the commission is given 90-days organize accordingly, and introduce the very likely risk of surpassing the April 23rd booking. With all the legalise involved, and the apparent ambiguity of the current laws, it makes sense for the Garden to hedge their bets. Proceedings on the matter are set to begin this month. 


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