Back in the 18th century there were firefights between settlers from the American colonies of New York and New Jersey over the exact placement of the northern border of New Jersey. During what came to be known as the New York-New Jersey Line War, between 1701 and 1765, natives of those two provinces, fueled by cartographical ambiguity, legal disputation, political chicanery, royal favoritism, proprietary murkiness, territorial stubbornness, latitudinal chauvinism, and good old-fashioned greed, would occasionally shoot at one another, raid the others’ camps, destroy their homes, and burn their crops. The governing bodies of the two provinces would step in from time to time with a new piece of legislation to quell the tension, but inevitably motivations would be called into question and the fighting and the burning would begin all over again. Things finally came to something like a resolution in 1769, when King George II appointed a royal commission to establish once and for all what the border between the two colonies would be, but by then the damage was done. New York and New Jersey were firmly established as cousins in dispute.
It’s a dispute that’s lasted to this day and that has played out on every conceivable American battlefield: from the cultural to the political to the musical to the sporting to the economic, etc. New York and New Jersey’s relationship just seems to thrive in contentiousness and discord.
Historically New York has gotten the upper hand in these battles, particularly in the court of public opinion, where New York City will always lord over New Jersey like some moneyed sophisticate looking down on his provincial cousin. Everyone there comes here to “make it,” after all, following in the footsteps of Jersey’s greatest son, Frank Sinatra, who was quickly adopted and stolen away by New York. There’s a haughtiness and cultural arrogance to New York in these exchanges and a lingering resentment that comes off of New Jersey like the smell of chemicals, based in the understanding that the road to American fame and fortune and cultural relevance has almost always led east across the Hudson River, rarely west.
But where New Jersey has always had New York’s number is in the world of MMA. Back in 2000 it was Jersey, not New York (the onetime “Fight Capital of the World”) whose athletic commission agreed to let MMA promoters put on events in the state, three years after the sport was declared illegal. And in 2001 it was New Jersey’s athletic commission that came up with the sport’s first unified rules. While New York was still puttering around in a fog of MMA squeamishness (which it’s still doing, by the way), New Jersey was paving the way for the future success of the sport. More than any other state New Jersey is responsible for MMA’s rise into mainstream cultural acceptance.
Yes, New Jersey had the foresight to jump on MMA early, and so 20 years later it’s New York that looks provincial and hopelessly square. MMA and the moral absurdity of the American spirit have conspired to jumble up what we always thought was clear: that New York is the place New Jersey wants to be. That they lived with a perpetual chip on their shoulder about existing in our shadow, that their entire state basks in and is blinded by New York’s reflected glory. The resentment should be theirs, traditionally.
Instead it’s New Yorkers who have to make the trip across the Hudson River to see a UFC fight, who have to jump on New Jersey Transit or drive through the dreaded Holland or Lincoln tunnels and suffer the indignity of going to Newark (Newark!)—chastened, hat in hand, like tourists escaping the narrow-mindedness of their small town to get a little culture for the evening. New Jerseyans used to come here to take in a Broadway musical or look at some modern art. Now look where we are.
No surprise then that this past Saturday at the press conference following UFC on Fox 18 at Newark’s Prudential Center the question of MMA in New York once again came up (how could it not?) and that the UFC was quick to insist that they will be bringing an event to New York this year. That everything’s fine and going according to plan. Sure, last week a federal judge dashed the UFC’s hope for an event at Madison Square Garden in April, but when plans fall through you make new plans, right? Upward and onward. April’s no good? How about November, then?
"We feel pretty confident that 2016 is the year. ... The next date we're targeting is November," UFC Director of Public Relations Dave Sholler said. "We're committed to bringing the UFC to New York. We're going to still work hard and get here in New York and Madison Square Garden, the Barclays Center [in Brooklyn], to the entire state. It's absolutely 100 percent a top priority for us."
November, New York MMA fans, is our new magic month. Do you have the strength to get your hopes up one more time?
On Saturday night, by the way, while the Prudential Center was putting on yet another great UFC show, Madison Square Garden (where Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali, “Sugar” Ray Robinson beat “Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta, and Rocky Marciano knocked out Joe Louis and ended the great man’s career) was home to a bunch of college kids playing basketball. And at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, nothing was going on. Not even the miserable consolation of a New Jersey Nets game or a Jimmy Buffet concert. Nothing but darkness. This would be depressing if it weren’t so expected, if we New Yorkers weren’t already so resigned, if we hadn’t so long ago accepted our fates as the boorish MMA outsiders looking in, runners-up to America’s perpetual runners-up.
All of which gives me a strange kind of hope. Because I know that nothing fuels progress like animosity: not faith, not love, not even luck. In the end, New Yorkers can’t abide being behind New Jersey for too long. It’s not in the constitution of the people here; it’s not part of our historical understanding of ourselves. This weekend’s fight in New Jersey, unfolding as it did in the light of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent show of support for MMA and that disheartening federal judge’s decision, is only more fuel for New Yorkers who want MMA in their home state but, more importantly, can’t believe they’ve been playing second fiddle to a state like New Jersey for this damn long.
Hope is a great thing, perhaps the greatest thing, but if you really want to get something done, trust in resentment.
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