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New York removes ban on pro MMA fights

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) The light heavyweight Liam McGeary, an English expatriate who lives in Brooklyn and fights for Bellator, isn’t the only mixed martial arts champion most New Yorkers have never heard of. But they may soon.

The more famous MMA promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship lobbied hard for years to convince state politicians to legalize it, bringing marquee fighters like Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey to Albany’s Capitol. Meanwhile, Rousey became a model and action film star with an entourage. Jones, a native of upstate New York, is widely regarded as the best fighter, pound for pound, on the planet.

Although UFC opened New York’s cage door, McGeary, Bellator and others plan to storm into the lucrative new market now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law Thursday legalizing professional MMA in the last state where it was banned.

“There’s a lot of fight fans over here who don’t get to experience the fight shows we do over on the West Coast,” said McGeary, who has fought in California and other states. He predicted many local fans, as well as others from England, will turn out to New York venues. “I believe there will be packed houses.”

Bellator’s principal owner is New York-based Viacom, whose Spike TV broadcasts the fights to 150 countries. Promotion President Scott Coker said they put on 16 cards last year, plan to do 29 this year and are averaging 1.2 million viewers per show. “We’re building our roster every month. We’re going after some of the big free agents. We’re building some fighters from the ground up,” he said.

Among venues they’re talking to is Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, Coker said. “It’d be a great place to hold our inaugural event there in New York.”

The UFC, the sport’s largest promotion, which broadcasts shows on Fox television and major events on pay-per-view, announced plans Thursday to hold its first New York show Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden.

Cuomo signed the law there Thursday, saying it will boost New York’s economy. He was ringed by UFC fighters Rousey and ex-champion Chris Weidman, a Long Island resident. Weidman has a June middleweight title rematch with Californian Luke Rockhold set for Los Angeles.

“Madison Square Garden is the international icon for great sports events,” Cuomo said. “The economics that go along with the sport are undeniable.”

UFC President Lorenzo Fertitta said they’ll hold an upstate event this year and later others throughout New York.

Bellator is also considering the Garden and other New York venues, including Indian reservation casinos and Buffalo, Coker said. McGeary, coming off an injury, may fight again in July or August, but the state may not be ready by then.

The law doesn’t take effect until September, giving the New York State Athletic Commission time to add two members, adopt regulations, train staff and begin licensing promoters, trainers and fighters. The sport’s violence drew opposition from some lawmakers and proposals from others to better protect fighters in the combination of kickboxing, wrestling and judo often done inside a cage or other enclosure with small gloves and a referee.

Added provisions raise the insurance required to $50,000 for fighter injuries, a $50,000 death benefit and to $1 million for life-threatening brain injuries. It authorizes the state to study potential funding mechanisms for long-term care of fighters who develop degenerative brain conditions. It’s also designed to bring the amateur sport, which has grown unregulated across the state, under state-authorized supervision.

Duff Holmes makes his living as a personal trainer for a roster of about 20 fighters evenings and weekends at his gym in suburban Utica. Former UFC contender Matt Hamill trained with him.

“The last few years in New York, the highest level amateurs were basically pros,” Holmes said. Several of his guys had 15 or 20 amateur fights, while in other states most have only four or five before turning professional. For the New Yorkers, travel would have cost anything they made. The ability to sell hometown tickets could change that math, though the insurance requirements may keep smaller promoters out of the market, he said.

However, Holmes has at least two fighters, featherweight Eric Mendiola and lightweight Pete San Antonio, who’ve each fought professionally twice for smaller promotions following long amateur careers. “They’re at the level that’s going to be noted,” he said.

There are a dozen or more amateur promotions in New York, including some that sell tickets to mismatches with barely trained fighters, Holmes said. “That’s one good thing that’s going to come out of this. They’re going to go bye-bye.”

UFC 214: Jones heavy favorite against Cormier in co-main event

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If one believes a long hiatus from the Octagon benefits a fighter’s mystique more than technique, then the price might be right on Daniel Cormier.

Ahead of the most fervently anticipated rematch in the company’s history, Jon Jones is a -260 favorite against the +200 underdog Cormier in the co-main event for UFC 214 on Saturday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The fight, which will top off a loaded main card at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, has been in the offing since about 30 seconds after Jones won an unanimous decision against Cormier early in 2015, but Jones’ doping suspension has prevented it from happening.

The prices have moved in Jones’ favor since he opened at -150 with Cormier coming back at +120. Before the layoff, Jones was perhaps the best fighter to ever grace the UFC and it’s understandable why fans believe he’ll use his long reach to keep Cormier at bay and get him in the clinch.

Cormier backers, though, can take heart in the belief that his takedown defense could be sharper than it was against Jones 2 1/2 years ago. The bottom line is it’s rare to get a champion at such a high price.

In the co-main event, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (-205) is favored against challenger Demian Maia (+165). Maia, who is plus money for the first time since 2014 (a bout that he lost to Rory MacDonald in a unanimous decision), is singleminded about getting a match to the mat in order to work toward a submission.

If Woodley can keep his focus on his takedown defense and keep the fight on their feet, his edge in athleticism and youth might prove to be the determining factor.

The prices for the women’s featherweight title fight between Cristiane (Cris Cyborg) Justino (-1100) and challenger Tonya Evinger (+650) underscore the difficulty Cyborg has finding a foe.  Cyborg has ended her last seven fights early, five in the first round. It might be better to pore over the odds on how many rounds Evinger, a solid wrestler, can hang in for during a fight that she accepted on relatively short notice.

Robbie Lawler (-160) is a slight favorite against Donald Cerrone (+130) in a twice-rescheduled welterweight matchup. It’s hard to know what to expect from Lawler, who’s been set back by injuries since his last fight against Woodley exactly 52 weeks ago. Cerrone is often vulnerable against left-handers such as Lawler, but takes an edge in stamina into what shapes up as an all-out brawl.

The main card starts off with a light heavyweight title eliminator, where Jimi Manuwa (-190) is favored against Volkan Oezdemir (+150). Manuwa, who is on a three-fight win streak, is the more developed and technically proficient of the two strikers. That might give him the edge against Oezdemir. It could be a quick resolution either way – Manuwa has 10 first-round knockouts in 17 pro fights, while Oezdemir has a powerful left hand and ample motivation to get a knockout and score a fight-of-the-night bonus.

Mayweather and McGregor end press tour with a bang in London

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Sometime before Floyd Mayweather Jr. stole Conor McGregor’s microphone and before McGregor walked behind Mayweather and pretended to spank him, it might have been hard to understand why all this was happening.

The four press conferences in four days. The insults and posturing. The clothes. Nobody seems to be talking about the 40-year boxing legend with increasingly public financial problems getting paid to fight an MMA star in his first-ever boxing match.

And that’s the whole point.

No matter what goes down on August 26, when Mayweather and McGregor finally put on boxing gloves and start punching each other, Friday’s press conference in London will live on in sports history.

Here are some of the best moments:

McGregor calls Mayweather’s body guards “Juice Head Turkeys”

McGregor has called out pretty much every member of Mayweather’s entourage this week, including his body guards. Earlier on the press tour, Mayweather ordered his security team to surround McGregor and some minor shoving ensued.

Apparently, the incident left a mark. McGregor had some choice words for those body guards on Friday and called them “juice head turkeys” from inside the ring.

Feel free to Google that expression, unless you’re offended by Thanksgiving arts and crafts or holiday recipes.

McGregor rubs Mayweather’s head

If McGregor were fighting, say, Adrian Beltre, this wouldn’t have gone down so smoothly.

But in one of the more revealing moments of the press conference, Mayweather  tried visibly not to laugh as McGregor rubbed his head and cracked some bald jokes. His best line might have been pointing out Mayweather’s fondness for wearing hats in public and asking him “What the [expletive] were you hiding under that thing?”

Mayweather does a chokehold in front of McGregor

McGregor’s most recent loss came against Nate Diaz in 2016, as the Irish fighter tapped out when Diaz put him in a rear naked choke-hold. Mayweather didn’t plan on letting McGregor forget that on Friday. Imitating the MMA move in front of his opponent, Mayweather even had his DJ cue up a few bars of Rich Gang’s 2013 single “Tapout.”

He then asked the decidedly pro-McGregor crowd why they decided to put their faith in “this quitter,” before asking them to get Nate Diaz on the phone.

“If you quit once, you quite twice,” Mayweather said. “If you quit twice, you quit three times. But on the fourth time, I’m going to knock you the [expletive] out.”