There were packed streets in Waianae today for UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway and Yancy Mederios. The celebrations included a parade and paina continuing a week of support of local athletes in the sport of mixed martial arts that the state of Hawaii hasn’t seen since the mid 2000s.
After a two year campaign that saw Holloway capture the UFC belt on an eleven fight winning streak that puts him among the greatest the sport has ever seen, is it finally time to see Bruce Buffer jump and bellow the most famous phrase in mixed martial arts right here in the 50th state?
Fans, fighters, and experts agree it’s time for the UFC in Hawaii.
“There is a real argument to be made that the Hawaii MMA fans kept MMA alive during the dark ages when Senator McCain was calling it human cock fighting, and they couldn’t get on cable television. We were selling out the Blaisdell arena, and the only place to get big fights in the world at that point was Tokyo and Honolulu,” T.J. Thompson, former president of Icon Sports.
When it comes to bringing a big MMA events to Hawaii, nobody has the experience of former Icon Sport, Elite XC, and Strikeforce promoter Thompson.
Some of the greatest martial artists to ever grace the cage competed in Hawaii during Thompson’s reign in the 2000s. Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, Frank Trigg, Robbie Lawler, B.J. Penn among many others helped create the fastest growing sport in the world.
“None of this happens without the [Hawaii] MMA fans. For those that were there in the late ’90s early 2000s, there were moments in the Blaisdell arena that would rival any sporting event you’ll go to in your life,” Thompson said.
That sleeping giant was awoken last Saturday night with Holloway’s TKO win over Jose Aldo to bring the featherweight belt back to Hawaii. With the UFC watching for the local response, fans packed the airport and westside. Thompson says he’s sure UFC president Dana White has Hawaii on his radar.
“I’ve known Dana for over 20 years now. Dana has been in the Blaisdell arena during some of those mega fights. He knows what it’s like here. I know for a fact that Dana wants to come here, he’s been wanting to come here for a long time. Logistically it’s a difficult thing to do. There may not be an arena big enough and an outdoor event is always a dangerous thing to do,” Thompson said.
A big hangup is the venue. Aloha Stadium is outdoors. The Blaisdell is too small and outdated. That leaves the Stan Sheriff Center as the only realistic option.
Back in 2008, White told KHON2 that the UFC wanted to hold the B.J. Penn vs. Georges St-Pierre superfight in Honolulu, but couldn’t because of the tax burden.
“This fight should be here in Hawaii. We should be doing this fight here in Hawaii. The economic impact that we bring into a city like this is around 11 or 12 million dollars. It’s phenomenal the amount of money we bring into a city when we roll in. The problem is the tax that these guys have put on promoters, and people trying to come in and do events is impossible. Possibly coming into Hawaii has been really permanently stalled because of the tax situation,” White said at the time.
“They took that out quickly. Our commission is very solid. The tax structure is solid. I would like to think that an organization like the HTA (Hawaii Tourism Authority) might get involved and help out. I mean we lost the Pro Bowl. This is the type of event that gets eyeballs on Hawaii,” Thompson said.
UFC brass is expected to meet with Hawaii’s rising star Holloway in the next month to discuss contract details, and a possible event in Hawaii. For now, we wait.
“I think we’re at 90-percent. I think it’s going to take a lot longer than people want it to take. I’d be shocked if it happened in 2017. I think there’s a good chance of it happening in 2018. Dana, UFC, Hawaii let’s do it ok!” Thompson said.