Photo courtesy UFC

After more than a decade of being banned in New York, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is finally coming to Manhattan. But the UFC won’t be in the ring (fights are still illegal in New York). Instead, the world’s biggest Mixed Martial Arts brand is creating one of the first official UFC gyms in New York city.

Is this a sign the times are changing? Greatist took a look at what the gym will offer and, with more gyms opening in the state, why a Manhattan gym matters.

What It Is

The UFC is the preeminent Mixed Martial Arts company in the world, hosting top-ranked fighters in events all over the globe. Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, is a full-contact combat sport which combines aspects of Brazilian Jujitsu, judo, Tae Kwon Do, karate, wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, and other numerous combat sports. Essentially, it means that punching, grappling, kicking, and choking are all allowed. The UFC’s first event was held in 1993, with the intent of determining the most effective martial art and has since exploded into one of the most popular spectator sports in America.

The sport has soared in popularity thanks in part to the UFC’s ability to engage fans on social media, television specials, and in reality shows like “The Ultimate Fighter.” Still, the violent, sometimes bloody fights led MMA to be banned in New York in 1997 by then-Governor George Pataki, who called it “barbaric.”

The UFC is hoping its new Manhattan training facility will help sway politicians’ minds. Their Manhattan UFC GYM, located among the white collars of the Financial District, is a 6,500 square foot facility offering more than 50 classes a week. The main feature is a 20 foot Octagon. (Most MMA fights are held in an octagon-shaped ring, 32 feet in diameter.) In addition, the gym has 30 heavy bags, traditional weights, and cardio machines. The gym’s approach focuses on the motto “Train Different,” which promises to combine the multi-disciplinary approach of mixed martial arts with free weights and cardio machines, helping members test their bodies using the principles applied by MMA fighters.

Photo courtesy of UFC

The UFC sees the gym, named “GYM,” as the logical next-step to their televised fights. The opening also coincides with the New York Assembly’s debate over legalizing MMA fights. During an interview with WCNY-FM’s “Capitol Pressroom,” Governor Andrew Cuomo seemed to warm to the idea of legalizing MMA bouts and recognized the “potential economic potential for the state” if MMA were to be allowed.

Adam Sedlack, Senior Vice President of UFC GYM, is conscious of the social stigma attached to the sport. “What’s the first thing people think of when they think UFC?” Sedlack asks. “Violence. I wasn’t a fan at all when they approached me with the idea for the GYM. But then I started taking boxing lessons, and Muay Thai lessons, and I understood the discipline and respect involved, everything changed.”

Why It Matters

Sedlack understands most people may see a contradiction between their brand and the idea of a family-friendly gym environment, but the UFC insists GYM is about empowering people, not beating them down. A number of kids classes are being offered at the new gym, and Sedlack says that in addition to teaching them self-defense, self-confidence, and discipline — in a safe and entertaining environment — UFC GYM is also aiming to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.

Whether or not the New York Assembly addresses MMA legalization, UFC’s GYM is now both a tax-payer and employer in the state of New York. With four UFC GYM locations already open for business in Astoria, Brooklyn, and Mamaroneck, and a massive facility scheduled to open in Long Island by the summer of 2013, UFC is determined to make its presence known while aiming to impact the fitness industry with facilities that live up their sport’s meteoric rise.

Would you train at a UFC-themed gym, even despite the MMA ban? Sound off below or find the author on Twitter @Keka_like_Becca.