The last time Campbell McLaren promoted a mixed martial arts event in New York, he got kicked out, the fights were moved to the peanut capital of the world in Dothan, Alabama, and the entire sport was banned in the state.
That was February 1997.
New York didn’t overturn that ban until March 2016.
“Coming into New York, it brings up a lot of memories,” said McLaren as his new MMA venture, the Hispanic-based Combate Americas, hosts an event at Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona, New York, on Friday. “I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
McLaren, one of the original creators of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, was promoting UFC 12, scheduled for Feb. 7, 1997, in Buffalo. About 40 hours before the first fight, McLaren was told that New York would not allow the event to take place.
McLaren’s marketing slogans of “There are no rules” and “No holds barred” and “Banned in 49 states!”, while promotional hyperbole at its finest and lacking in truth, drew attention. UFC 12 — the one scheduled for New York — actually was the first one to feature specific weight classes. Before this event, there were no weight divisions — and, more importantly, little to no regulation. That changed as the sport evolved and ownership changed.
“During the approval process in New York State, people were still quoting that, 20 years later,” McLaren said. “That’s like ‘I wanna buy the world a Coke.’”
McLaren returns to New York with one of the first professional MMA fight cards since the law was overturned last March. (He actually promoted the first MMA event in New York on Sept. 8, 1995, with UFC 7 in Buffalo.)
The legislation called for a period of several months for the New York State Athletic Commission to determine its regulations and guidelines for sanctioning the sport before a professional MMA event could take place.
It also requires promoters to carry a $1 million insurance policy for fighters. The new amount, which includes all combat sports including boxing, has caused some smaller promoters to look outside New York for venues.
“The insurance issue is a real one. We’re a real company, we pay insurance, we pay our fighters well,” McLaren said. “For us, it was easier to go to Turning Stone, which is not governed by the New York Commission.”
Boxing and MMA events at Turning Stone are regulated by the Oneida Indian Nation Athletic Commission, which does not need to adhere to the NYSAC requirement for insurance because the Oneida Nation is a sovereign nation.
McLaren added that Combate Americas follows all the guidelines of the California and Nevada athletic commissions when promoting an event in another state.
McLaren said he wanted to bring Combate Americas to the Bronx first, “but the way the law is written, it’s very tough.”
Combate Americas’ “Empire Rising” event features its first championship fight as John Castaneda and Gustavo Lopez meet for the bantamweight title. Former UFC fighter Matt Hamill, who lives 20 minutes away from Turning Stone in New Hartford, also is on the card.
The fights will air on UFC Fight Pass, where it has drawn a strong audience. The digital streaming network is owned by the UFC, but it distributes other smaller promotions’ live fights and maintains their library of bouts.
“We are thrilled with Combate Americas’ performance overall,” UFC senior vice president and Fight Pass general manager Eric Winter said. “The promotion plays a significant role in UFC Fight Pass’ live-event programming schedule.”
For McLaren, returning to New York with mixed martial arts is an achievement. Not that he really left. He has lived in Larchmont for more than 20 years.
Perception, however, has changed in that time frame.
“My wife goes ‘Don’t tell anyone here what you do,’” McLaren said about moving to the affluent Westchester neighborhood in the 1990s. “And now my wife is running around town going, ‘He’s doing Combate Americas, which is the Spanish UFC.’ Returning to New York and being respectable, returning to New York and being able to tell my neighbors what I do, returning to New York and knowing I’m not going to be shown the door, yeah, this is pretty good.”
COMBATE AMERICAS FIGHT CARD
Friday, Oct. 14, at Turning Stone
John Castaneda vs. Gustavo Lopez (bantamweight championship)
Matt Hamill vs. Julian Marquez
Jonathan Martinez vs. Freddie Arteaga
Irwin Rivera vs. Jose Ceja
Paulina “Firefox” Granados vs. Jenna Serio
Victor Reyna vs. Marc Stevens
James Rodriguez vs. Alex Henry