Today is a big day for Hawaii’s MMA fans. In case you are oblivious to pop culture, MMA is mixed martial arts. In recent years the sport has exploded and has pushed boxing to the brink of irrelevance. MMA’s beacon company is the UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championship. The leader of this organization is vibrant, brash, and has on occasion been a target for both naysayers and enthusiasts alike. Today the UFC is holding their special pay-per-view program, UFC 112, in Abu Dhabi. For those that are confused, this event is being held in the United Arab Emirates. It is a country built to be a modern marvel but whose base is Muslim. It is a bit interesting to see such a paradox.
The UFC holds about one pay-per-view event per month. The price of these programs generally range from $40-$50 depending on how strong the card is. This month’s card features two of the best fighters in the world in Brazil’s Anderson Silva and Hawaii’s own, BJ Penn. While they are champions in different weight classes, Penn is lightweight champ while Silva is Middleweight champ, they are widely accepted as the world’s best in their divisions. BJ Penn is one of the most recognized MMA athletes in the world. He carries the nickname, The Prodigy, and has at many times in his career held true to that name. Penn is a born and raised product of Hilo, Hawaii. He trains with his brother and has opened a few gyms. He has done more to increase the fan base of MMA in Hawaii than anyone working for the UFC could ever hope to accomplish. It is tough to walk around a busy public area and not see scores of people wearing some type of clothing that advertises an MMA brand. Many shops around Hawaii have opened up over the last 5 years to meet the demand for MMA gear and merchandise. Right now it seems that the demand is out pacing the supply.
With such a large fan base, many smaller promotions are currently operating in Hawaii. These events are usually advertised at stores that cater to the targeted demographic of males, 18-35 years old. Countless shops at Pearl Ridge mall will have fliers for upcoming events and many times will have some sort of MMA merchandise for sale. The move by corporate America to advertise and display MMA clearly shows how mainstream it has become. MMA stars appear on sporting shows and have an increased presence in movies. With its popularity, it is a wonder that there hasn’t been more of a focus by Hawaii’s leaders to bring the cash cow that is the UFC into Hawaii. Common sense dictates that a place with a rabid fan base like Hawaii would be a very attractive place for UFC president, Dana White to hold a big event. In fact, White has mentioned his desire to fill the Aloha Stadium with MMA fans for a UFC fight. Imagine 35,000 plus fans in Aloha Stadium screaming and hoping for a BJ Penn victory. Imagine the countless number of MMA fans that would flock to the paradise of Hawaii to watch a great spectacle.
In recent years, the one thing blocking fans in Hawaii from a UFC event was the lack of a regulatory board overseeing MMA. That road block was removed when a board was created last legislative session. A governing body for MMA in Hawaii is vital to ensure that the sport is properly run in this state. It is important that the promotions are kept to high standards and that the well-being of all participants are taken into account. However, this still has not done enough to encourage the UFC to plant the banner in Hawaii. Maybe what we need is a sports commission that will have the sole duty of attracting and retaining sports related events in Hawaii. Imagine a committee that actively works to bring big time boxing matches, or tries to set up international volleyball tournaments. This committee would serve the sole purpose of bringing quality athletics of an international variety to the state of Hawaii.
In January of this year, Lt. Governor Duke Aiona proposed the creation of the Hawaii Sports Commission. This was partly in response to the NFL moving the Pro Bowl from Hawaii for the first time since 1979. During the current economic times, there is little doubt that the Pro Bowl would have been a huge boom to the economy. The proposed board would feature 13 members. Eight members would be appointed by the governor and the remaining members would be representatives of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and the four county mayors. The board would only have the executive director receiving compensation. This commission would actively explore ways to bring sports and sporting events to Hawaii. It would also serve as a body that will attempt to highlight and promote sporting events currently in Hawaii. This would be a state-wide initiative. It would be amazing see more PGA and LPGA events in Hawaii or an increase in international surfing tournaments. The commission could look to bring sporting conferences and expos. With a tourism based economy, Hawaii needs this to ensure any chance at a vibrant future.
So we get to this point along the path where we look around and see little being done. Since the announcement of the proposal, there has been little progress in the legislature. Part of the problem is the current budget deficit and part of it is the lack of a push by the public. There is little burden that the committee would place on tax payers. The proposal calls for an initial appropriation of $100,000 to get the HSC up and running. The plan would call for the beginning of the HSC to be up by July of this year and be fully functioning by the next legislative session.
This is where we need the support of the people. Hawaii has an economy that is trying desperately to survive. We have a legislature that is debating the need to raise taxes versus the need to make massive layoffs and cut vital services. This is when we need to step up and let our politicians know where we stand. A state commission would be the only entity whose sole purpose to bring sporting events to Hawaii. Every new event being held in Hawaii brings important dollars to local businesses and families. Now is not the time to sit in the stands and watch the fight. Now is the time to start fighting!