Where would UFC Hawaii take place? Loose end could complicate potential event’s venue

A major victory by UFC featherweight champion and Waianae native Max Holloway has many wanting to see a title fight here in the islands.

“Definitely UFC Hawaii better happen. I mean, just look at this (crowd),” Holloway told KHON2 as hundreds gathered at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport to greet him.

But a first-right obligation between two available venues could complicate things. Always Investigating found a big loose end between the city and state.

The University of Hawaii promised the city that the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena would keep first dibs on commercial events over the Stan Sheriff Center, but has not yet solidified that in writing seven years after a mutual pledge to do so.

Both sides say they won’t let something like a UFC event fall through the cracks meanwhile.

KHON2 Sports has been asking the UFC for years if it’s planning a Hawaii fight. Officials aren’t saying anything yet, even as the roster of prominent local fighters grows.

“Bring it home, please. Please, Dana White, bring it to Hawaii,” said welterweight fighter Yancy Medeiros.

But if they bring it, where would it go?

The Blaisdell fits at most 8,800 people and is showing its age, but it’s been more than a decade since UFC held a U.S. fight with a crowd that would even fit there. Crowds are as big as 60,000, and never smaller than 10,000 in the U.S. for a pay-per-view fight since 2005.

That means the only other indoor option is the 10,300-seat Stan Sheriff Center, which is bigger and newer, and on UFC’s radar before.

“There were conversations awhile ago, when BJ Penn was at the height of his reign,” said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.

But if UFC comes knocking, there’s the issue of that pledge dating back to the founding of the UH center: Blaisdell gets first right of refusal. That promise was reiterated in 2010 before the city council when commercial events at UH got the green light.

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We found out an agreement formalizing first rights was drafted, but never executed by either party.

“Over the last seven years, this hasn’t been an issue, because there hasn’t been any kind of conflict or point where someone has found the Stan Sheriff available when they need it, so that works out for the Blaisdell,” said Meisenzahl.

The last time UH even had to ask was in 2013 when the university gave the city a heads up that it planned to have a Stevie Wonder concert at the Blaisdell. That turned out to be a scam booking, and commercial events have remained a low priority for the school.

“It’s not a facility that it’s like you can book in advance in three years in the fall because the top priority is to support the athletic department,” Meisenzahl said.

It’s not like there was no follow-up. When the current city department director checked up on the status of the draft a couple years ago, he and the UH athletic booster director felt it may be moot to execute.

“A memorandum of agreement partially restricting commercial activities in the Stan Sheriff Arena was drafted in 2010, but has never been executed by either party,” said Department of Enterprise Services director Guy Kaulukukui. “In 2015, shortly after my appointment as Department of Enterprise Services director, I met with Jon Kobayashi at his request, then Executive Director of Aha Hui Koa Anuenue (AKA), to discuss the status of the MOA. We determined that execution of the MOA may be a moot point given that there were so few contiguous dates available at the Stan Sheriff Arena that its use by AKA for commercial activities was highly unlikely.”

City council records still reflect it as an expectation tagged to the 2010 commercial permissions.

“We can take a look at what needs to be done, work with our city partners, make sure those things get done,” Meisenzahl said.

Both sides say no paperwork or first-rights issue will stand in the way of making a big event happen.

“I’m sure I speak for just about everyone that we hope our champion gets a shot in front of the home crowd,” he said. “What people need to know is the city, the university, and something like UFC and something we should all be proud of — having a world champion — we’ll definitely find a way to make everything work out.”

For its part, the city wants the Blaisdell to stay as busy as possible with local events and big-name shows, but knows it’s an uphill battle as an older, smaller venue despite its first rights. A master plan to spruce up the whole complex is ongoing.

“Right now, it’s pretty busted up,” admitted Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “We can’t attract some of these shows because of the condition both in the back of the house and the front of the house. We have to be competitive on a national and international stage. We’re losing that competitive edge, because we are not putting the money we need to keep it up to par.”

Honolulu city councilman Ikaika Anderson was there in 2010 when UH got the vote allowing commercial events to be held at the Stan Sheriff Center, and remembers it was conditioned on a promise that a formal written agreement would follow. He says that document should still be signed, regardless of whether a booking conflict may or may not arise.

We’ll follow up with both sides on that signing.

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