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UFC finds bright lights of NYC welcoming

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POSTED January 31, 2014 10:09 p.m.

NEW YORK (AP) — Regis Philbin wore a UFC championship belt around his waist and tossed a challenge at Ricardo Lamas.

“Ricardo, good luck! You’re not going to get this until you win,” the 82-year-old TV personality said. “And then you’ve got to go through me!’

Lamas would have an easier time with Reege than he will with champion Jose Aldo.

When the UFC piggybacked on Super Bowl weekend, the usual promotion for Saturday’s pay-per-view event went out on the window — and landed on the NFL’s media day. And radio row. And, well, just about any hot spot this week where NFL or major media outlets were camped out, so was the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The UFC even hit Madison Square Garden on Thursday to promote the card — a venue the promotion can’t run because of New York’s MMA ban.

The UFC didn’t just crash the Super Bowl party, it became the life of the bash.

UFC correspondent Megan Olivi brought a championship belt to the Super Bowl circus known as media day, where Philbin proclaimed himself the champ, and players couldn’t wait to hoist the strap over their shoulder or pose with it for a picture.

Lamas, one of several UFC stars who attended, ran his fingers though Pittsburgh defenseman’s Brett Keisel’s bushy beard.

UFC heavyweight Alistair Overeem wore a Peyton Manning jersey and the 135-pound champion Renan Barao countered with Russell Wilson’s No. 3 when the fighters lined up for a post-press conference photo opp at MSG.

The week of media tours has been almost as rugged as five rounds in the octagon for the fighters.

“The amount of media I’ve done this week is incredible,” Lamas said. “My head was spinning from all the questions being asked. I’d love to get to do stuff like this even more because I’d love for this to be a big problem in my life.”

Lamas might find out if he can defeat Aldo for the championship. Barao defends his title against Urijah Faber and Overeem takes on Frank Mir in Saturday’s three biggest bouts.

The UFC will hold its Super Bowl weekend show at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., just a few miles from MetLife Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played Sunday.

The UFC switched its traditional Super Bowl show from Las Vegas to New Jersey at the request of broadcast partner, Fox.

“I wasn’t really sure how it would all go, but it couldn’t have gone better,” UFC President Dana White said.

White referenced the movie “Groundhog Day,” as he again explained New York’s beef with MMA. While he would surely love for UFC to run MSG — or at any arena in the state — he’s comforted by the 49 other states and numerous countries around the globe clamoring for MMA’s global leader to come to town.

“Us not being in New York has been a great thing for New Jersey,” White said. “It’s been great for New Jersey and it’s been great for us.”

With New York closed to MMA, UFC 169 is already the fifth card the Las Vegas-based promotion has run in the building since it opened in 2007.

“Can we become Las Vegas East for MMA? I certainly hope so,” said Scott O’Neil, CEO of the Prudential Center.

The show is an expected sellout — White said he was forced to deny a ticket request for actor-rapper Ice-T.

The New York Assembly has blocked legalization for years, and has shunned MMA almost since the company’s inception, when UFC 12 in 1997 was booted after the event was denied sanctioning rights. New York is the lone state that does not hold regulated MMA cards.

The opportunity is there on Saturday for the UFC to attract even more fans, and maybe sway some New York lawmakers.

The issue for several years split a Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-dominated Assembly. However, the bill passed the Senate now ruled by a bipartisan coalition, and backers claim there is enough support among Assembly Democrats to pass it if their leaders permit the floor vote.

“I hope one day they can stage events here,” Overeem said. “It would be great to become a part of fight history.”

Who knows? Maybe Ali-Frazier would become a piece of forgotten history if Lamas fought Philbin in the main event of the first MSG card.

That is, if Philbin would stop ducking him.

“I ran up to him, but security stopped me before I could get to him,” Lamas said, laughing.

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