When the bill to lift the ban on mixed martial arts was passed through the New York Assembly this week, one of those who rejoiced was a transplant Englishman who fosters a dream of fighting in the Empire State, too.
That was Liam McGeary, the current lightweight champion in Bellator, who has for the past four years has called New York home, and who trains with Renzo Gracie just a few blocks from Madison Square Garden.
"I was keeping a close eye on it, through the people at Spike and on the internet," the 33-year old McGeary told MMA Fighting. "As soon as it came through my phone blew up with messages and a big smile came over my face, because now we can finally put the show up to the East Coast fans. There’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of fight fans in New York and surrounding places as well, lots of towns. It’s easy to get to. They the fights as much as the West Coast. So, yeah, it’s all happy days."
McGeary (11-0) last fought against Tito Ortiz at Bellator: Dynamite in San Jose, California in September. Before then the closest he could come to fighting in New York was at Uncasville, at the Mohegan Sun, where he defeated Emmanuel Newtown a year ago to win the title, or in Atlantic City.
With the UFC having led the campaign to get MMA sanctioned in New York, it benefits the sport as a whole. Bellator could end up being the first major promotion to have a show in the state, and there’s already talk about an event happening at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
McGeary said it doesn’t matter to him which arena it’s in, or which promotion is throwing an event. The idea is that that these things can finally happen.
"Everyone’s pumped," he said. "Everyone’s looking forward to putting on a show. There’s awesome venues over here to put events on…MSG, Barclays Center. They’ve had lots of boxing shows, so to put a cage in there. Bellator, UFC, me headlining, the other fighters headlining. They’re all going to be absolutely epic shows."
McGeary has been on the shelf for the past few months while recovering from an injury. He said he’s now able to train again at full speed and without limitation. A bout with UFC veteran Phil Davis looks like it’s going to happen in the next couple of months. He said that in the next couple of weeks he’ll have some news on that front.
"We’re still waiting to get word," he said. "I don’t really know what’s going on. All I know is I’m itching for one."
He wouldn’t mind fighting in New York later this year, if there’s a Bellator event. He says if the bill hadn’t passed — and for the last few years, there were times where it felt futile — he’d have lived with a regret that was out of his control.
"It would have been," he said. "If this law hadn’t been passed, I’d be feeling like I missed out on something. If I’d retired and then they passed the law, I’d have to have that one comeback fight to fight at MSG. It’s every young fighter’s dream to fight in the same place where Muhammad Ali was fighting, where Mike Tyson was fighting. Just to feel that energy going into battle… is something we all can’t wait to feel."