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UFC Hawaii? - Price likely still looms as the deciding factor

Dana White spoke about the possibility of a UFC Hawaii event during the UFC 271 post fight presser.

It’s been a while since the UFC flirted with the prospect of taking the Octagon to Hawaii. But Dana White teased the possibility once again, that the Octagon could someday head over to the Island state, while fielding questions during the UFC 271 post-fight press conference.

The topic of Hawaii came about after the UFC president mentioned that the promotion still hopes to hold an event in Africa, sometime in the near future—potentially capitalizing on the notoriety of their three champions from the continent: Kamaru Usman, Israel Adesanya and Francis Ngannou.

“There was a politician here tonight,” White exclaimed from the Toyota Center in Houston, TX, “from Hawaii who was saying, ‘You know, we want you guys in Hawaii,’ which we’ve never been able to get done.”

The Endeavor-owned company has talked to state regulators in the past about a Hawaii card. But at the time of those conversations the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) balked at the UFC’s asking price.

According to the Associated Press, the UFC wanted $6 million from the Tourism Authority for the event, nearly a full $1 million more than Hawaii reportedly paid for the NFL Pro Bowl in 2016.

“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 Tourism Authority countered the $6 million UFC asking price with a proposal of $1 million. That $1 million offer, had the UFC accepted it, according to Dance, would have been, “the largest fee paid by the HTA for any single sports event in 2018.”

In 2019, following a trip to Hawaii for an episode of Dana White: Lookin’ For a Fight, White made it clear that he felt the any negotiation was really just a matter of how badly the tourism board wanted to get a deal done.

“Listen, we want to come here,” said White. “We love this place. We got the get this thing figured out eventually. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens. I want it, does the tourism board want it? Do they or do they not? If they do, we’ll come. If not, we understand.”

Saturday’s mention of a UFC Hawaii appears to be the first time in several years that the idea has come up publicly from anyone on the promotion’s side of things. But, if nothing’s changed from the UFC’s side of the deal, it seems unlikely that the state has found an extra $5 million in their budget.

In the meantime, however, Bellator held four events in Hawaii during two trips to the state in 2018 and 2019. So at the very least, we know it’s possible for someone to bring in a show from the continental US.