This past Saturday, Dover-raised gladiator Kenny Florian beat the pretty out of long-haired Chicago carpenter-turned-ass kicker Clay Guida. After motoring Guida with a torrent of explosive cracks, Florian dented his opponent with an elbow to the temple, triggering a steady flow of DNA to spray those fortunate enough to land expensive seats. For the win, the lethal lightweight wrapped his left arm around Guida's rib cage and hammered him into submission.
That romp and 10 others on the card for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 107 was held at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee, more than 1000 miles from Florian's namesake mixed martial arts (MMA) gym in Coolidge Corner. Upon entering the caged octagon that is a staple of the UFC — the sport's top league that hosts events in various cities throughout the US — the Yankee bruiser was booed by the southern crowd. Next time New England's premier pugilist buries an opponent, though, he may get to dig the grave in his own back yard.
Florian — who was the public face of UFC's "I Want to Fight in My Home State" publicity campaign — is one of several MMA proponents who testified on Beacon Hill for the right to hold bouts here. Though UFC cites Massachusetts as one of its most profitable pay-per-view demographics, state authorities have thus far failed to issue official rules and safety precautions for the sport, which has kept the planet's largest MMA league from hosting shows here.
But on November 30, following a two-year process in which legislators worked to accommodate the growth of "unarmed competitive sport," Governor Deval Patrick signed into law an act that will regulate MMA, making this the 42nd state to officially sanction the bloodletting blend of jujitsu, wrestling, and myriad more melon-busting techniques.
To help unlock flood gates for MMA in Massachusetts, UFC President Dana White, who launched his career as a Somerville-based boxing promoter, hired a team of lobbyists and personally testified before representatives. Now, considering White's history and business interests — plus the number of notable mixed martial artists who call these sports-hungry parts home — flashing signs indicate that the commonwealth will soon become a major hub for marquee MMA combat and the billion-dollar industry that follows.
"This is much bigger than me," says Florian. "This is an important opportunity to advance the sport in general and to make it more legitimate. I can't even tell you how many people over the years have asked me when the UFC is coming to Massachusetts.... They're all fired up — the response is already bigger than most people could imagine."
He's not kidding: 95 percent of state delegates voted in favor of the measure. There is such apparent love for the sport under the Golden Dome that perhaps the debut UFC battle royale should be staged in the Great Hall at the State House.
History of violence
White acquired the UFC with partners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta in 2001, and proactively cooperated with boxing and athletic boards from coast to coast. But before that effort to legitimize, MMA suffered a much-deserved reputation for unchecked brutality. Ruthless clips from early rumbles gained enough notoriety to draw ire from Arizona senator John McCain, who has attempted to hobble the UFC.