It was an amazing sight on a rainy Thursday in SoHo. Hundreds of people stood in the rain outside a Sports Authority, waiting to get a signature, a picture and a few words in with one of their heroes. No, it was not Henrik Lundqvist — he was off helping the Rangers move on in the NHL Playoffs. It wasn’t Mariano Rivera — he was further uptown signing at a Macy’s sponsored event. Thierry Henry? Nope. The Red Bulls star doesn’t do signings (but he should). It was NFL Draft day, how about maybe Jason Pierre-Paul or maybe Mark Sanchez? None of the above.
It was UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, the charismatic Canadian who was in town briefly to promote a new partnership with MISSION Athletecare’s new EnduraCool product. The throngs of people, from guys in suits to moms of every color, are a continuing testament to the drawing power of Mixed Martial Arts, especially the UFC, in one of the few states (New York) that still refuses to regulate the professional side of the sport. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of gyms throughout the region that offer some form of MMA as a training ritual (St-Pierre himself often trains at one, the Renzo Gracie Academy in midtown), but the brightest lights of the sport, as well as the sponsor dollars and television coverage, still have to find a home across the river in New Jersey, which were the next UFC bout will be held (next Saturday at the IZOD Center).
The lack of legalization is frustrating for the sport’s followers and for St-Pierre, who loves New York and has a residence here. “This is my second home, and I love the people and the fans and the fact that I get to train here,” he said. “It is a dream for me to compete in Madison Square Garden as it is the mecca for all of sports and entertainment, and I will continue to help educate and push however I can to get the sport legalized here. We are professionals, we are responsible and the sport continues to come a long way. It will be a great day when it does happen in New York, and I think it will at some point soon.”
It is doubtful that such a move could come for St-Pierre’s next fight, which he said could happen as soon as November, when he is fully recovered from a knee injury that has sidelined him, and will keep him out of fully training until later this summer. In the meantime the business-savvy Montrealer is growing his brand and his fan base in other ways, such as with the partnership with MISSION and their latest athlete-sponsorsed product, a towel which, when wet, maintains a cool 60 degree temperature that will help any athlete recover and cool down faster in the heat of competition.
“It is an amazing technology, and will help anyone stay focused and not overheat when training or running or even fighting,” he added. While it is not clear if he would be able to use the towel in the ultra-regulated Octagon, he said it has become a key part of his training regimen as he works back from recovery, and he will see if when he is back if he can bring the EnduraCool towel into the bout.
“It is very tough to introduce new items into the corner when you fight, because there is the worry about an unfair advantage,” he added, “but this towel can be used by everyone equally so I hope it is approved. It is great to be involved in such a new thing to help improve performance.”
The interesting next step will be to see which happens first, a new technology in the Octagon or the Octagon coming to life in New York. In St-Pierre’s mind, both are worthy and hopefully can coincide with his return to action, two opportunities which would be yet another step forward for the wildly popular sport of MMA.