No brawl in Symphony Hall

So much for a brawl in the hall.

The Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight scheduled for Jan. 16 in Symphony Hall at the Woodruff Arts Center has been canceled after patrons expressed concerns that the event was all crass and no class, according to the organizer.

Symphony Hall officials had signed a contract with Sin City Fight Club promoter William McAlister, but they pulled out after a story in the Dec. 17 Atlanta Journal-Constitution prompted calls from angry patrons, McAlister said.

A few days later, he received his deposit in the mail along with a letter of termination, dated the same day as the AJC story.

Calls, e-mails and text messages to spokespersons for Symphony Hall and the ASO Board Chairman were not returned. The offices are closed this week for a mandatory furlough.

Philanthropist Cyndae Arrendale, who has supported the ASO through its Symphony Associates Guild, said some things just don't mix.

"There's a time and a place for everything," said Arrendale. "If you want to see boxing, you go to the ring."

McAlister said his attorney is looking at the "one-sided" contract to determine if anything can be done to save the event.

"I didn't deceive them," McAlister said. "I told them exactly what we were going to be doing. I told them, ‘We are going to be the brawl at Symphony Hall!' and they loved it."

He said he is out more than $5,000 including the cost of airline reservations to fly the fighters to Atlanta. He has also had to pay refunds on about 200 tickets bought online, ranging in price from $20 to $75.

With less than four weeks remaining before the event, McAlister said the other venues he has contacted are already booked.

JJ Biello, chairman of the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission, which oversees MMA and boxing events in the state, said the cancellation was the first of its type that he's heard of. "I don't understand why they cancelled it," he said. "It is an extremely quickly growing sport. It's not the backroom cigar smoking thing you would think."

Still, McAlister in a press release said he would turn Symphony Hall from "violins to violence," a phrase which surely didn't carry the best connotation with a crowd accustomed to hearing the soothing strains of Mozart in the hall.

"The fighters consider what they do a sport, not necessarily violence," said Jose Santiago, managing editor for gafighters.com, a Web site dedicated to the fight community. "I think maybe the arts community didn't appreciate the MMA being at the venue, but you would think the folks at Symphony Hall would have anticipated some of that," Santiago said. "For them not to anticipate that and use it to pull out on McAlister, he got a raw deal."

--Jennifer Brett contributed to this article

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