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April 19, 2019

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Hawaii tourism group balks at UFC’s $6M price for isle title card

The Ultimate Fighting Championship made the Hawaii Tourism Authority an offer it could refuse, leading to the collapse of talks that had been aimed at bringing a UFC card starring Max Holloway to Aloha Stadium this summer.

After the HTA turned down the mixed martial arts group's $6 million asking price, UFC President Dana White told a New York news conference Wednesday he had no intention of holding a card in Hawaii "anytime soon."

The $6 million proposal would have been the most ever paid to bring a sports event to Hawaii, topping the $5.2 million deal the HTA had with the NFL for the 2016 Pro Bowl.

White's comments came at a news conference for Saturday's UFC 223 card, which features Holloway in a lightweight title bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov of Dagestan at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Waianae native, who already has the featherweight crown, is going up in weight class (from 145 pounds to 155 pounds) seeking to become the second fighter in UFC's quarter-century history to simultaneously hold two titles.

Holloway, who is 19-3, has asked White and the UFC for more than a year to bring a card to Hawaii, and discussions about a proposed Aug. 4 event picked up steam on Jan. 23 when a five-member delegation representing the HTA and Aloha Stadium met with UFC officials at the group's Las Vegas headquarters.

The Hawaii delegation presented the proposal to the HTA, whose board countered with a $1 million offer that was rejected by the UFC, the HTA said.

"Hawaii was happening this year, and it got shut down by the tourism board there," White said Wednesday. "So it won't happen anytime soon. We were geared up and ready to go there this year."

"The $6 million price tag, we just couldn't afford ... I mean, that's not the kind of money that we have," said Leslie Dance, HTA vice president of marketing and product development. "Whether we've paid that for the Pro Bowl or not ... that's what they compared it to. I think that's where they came up with that number. It's not the type of money we have in our current budget to fund it, but we really did want to make it work."

The $1 million the HTA said it offered the UFC still would have been "the largest fee paid by the HTA for any single sports event in 2018."

Negotiations with the UFC came amid bills advancing in the state Legislature that would strip $48.2 million of the HTA's annual budget.

The HTA said it could not commit to supporting a UFC event until May, when it would know for sure what its budget would be for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In addition, Dance said, the proposed Aug. 4 date for a UFC event comes during what is already a peak period for travel to Hawaii, and the HTA would have preferred "for the UFC fight card to be held during the off-peak travel seasons or fall or spring when there are more airline seats and hotel rooms available for travelers coming to Hawaii to attend the event."

The 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium has hosted outdoor mixed martial arts fights and boxing matches in the past.

In July 2005, K-1 held a kickboxing card with an MMA fight involving Hilo's B.J. Penn at the stadium that drew 12,000 people.

The UFC has shied away from holding events at outdoor venues, but with the recent success of Holloway, the UFC world champion at 145 pounds, public interest in a card here is at an all-time high.

Currently there are 10 fighters with Hawaii ties under contract with the UFC.

Holloway is stepping in for an injured Tony Ferguson on six days' notice in challenging Nurmagomedov for the UFC's 155-pound world title.

Holloway could join Conor McGregor, the sport's biggest star, as the only two fighters in history to hold multiple world titles at the same time, and the hope in Hawaii had been that a victory Saturday might bring a Holloway-McGregor fight here.

McGregor, in a 2013 bout, was the last fighter to defeat Holloway, who has a 12-bout winning streak.