Holloway’s winning streak renews interest in hometown battle
Featherweight champion Max Holloway retained his world title against Jose Aldo this past weekend renewing interest in a possible hometown throw down.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority is scheduled to talk to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) today, but it’s still unclear if that phone call will bring local fans and tourists any closer to seeing Holloway or any of the other 11 Hawaii guys on the UFC’s roster up close and personal.
State Sen. Glenn Wakai
(D, Salt Lake, Aliamanu), who has been pushing the UFC to come here next summer, said the organization told him it would be interested if Holloway continued his winning streak uninjured. Holloway’s win Saturday at the main event of the UFC 218 in Detroit extended the 145-pound fighter’s winning streak to 12 and drove his fans wild. It’s also upped the ante for local organizations like the HTA that have been on the fence about bringing the Waianae native home to battle.
The state’s top tourism agency was notably silent when stories emerged over the summer about whether the UFC would consider Hawaii as a venue. The agency didn’t argue on Hawaii’s behalf when news reports indicated UFC was leery of holding an event here because it thought the state’s two largest indoor venues, the Neal S. Blaisdell Center and the Stan Sheriff Center, wouldn’t hold enough fans.
The Aloha Stadium was raised as a possibility, but the rain-averse UFC typically shies away from outdoor facilities. Wakai, who represents residents who live in the Aloha Stadium district, said a canopy over the ring and its fans would likely suffice as it did in
2005 when BJ Penn drew 12,000. The bigger impediment has been HTA resistance, he said.
“(HTA Board Chairman) Rick Fried and (HTA Chief Operating Officer) Randy Baldemor said it attracts undesirables to Hawaii. I told them that in Vegas the UFC fan spends more and stays longer than an average Vegas tourist. I didn’t see any statistics showing an increase in assaults or ‘hooligan’ behavior,” Wakai said.
Fried said the HTA board has not decided if UFC would be the right brand for the state’s tourism agency.
“We’ll wait to see if they give us a proposal,” Fried said.
Leslie Dance, HTA vice president of marketing and product development, said she is slated to talk to UFC today. If UFC makes a proposal, Dance said HTA’s sports marketing contractor Ascendent Sports Group will take the lead in evaluating it.
HTA has allocated
$5.5 million for its fiscal year 2018 strategic sports fund, which is designed to attract sports properties and events “that bring economic benefit, promote Hawaii as a desirable destination, and deliver positive experiences to Hawaii residents.”
So far, most of HTA’s largest sports commitments remain focused on golf, endurance events, basketball, football and volleyball. The agency is looking to grow its commitments to tennis, soccer, rugby, surfing and other watersports.
Waianae native Max Holloway wore the champion’s belt after defeating Jose Aldo of Brazil during their UFC featherweight mixed martial arts bout in Rio de Janeiro in June.