This story was originally published on Time.com.
The event was a bloody success
Conor McGregor really wanted his second belt. The UFC superstar had just knocked out Eddie Alvarez on early Saturday morning, to gain the lightweight title and become the first UFC fighter to earn championships in two different divisions (he already had the featherweight crown). During his post-fight interview in the Octagon, to the delight of a delirious Madison Square Garden crowd, he called the UFC “cheap m———–s” for failing to bring out the featherweight belt so he could strut around with the two jewels. He dropped a few more f-bombs before UFC president Dana White—who later said it was in fact McGregor’s responsibility to tend to his own belts—gave McGregor a second belt, which White borrowed from welterweight champ Tyron Woodley. “It’d like to take this time to apologize,” McGregor shouted into the mike, “to absolutely nobody.” The packed area roared.
In one of the most important nights in the history of the UFC, which was holding its first event in New York City— the largest market in the United States—after the sport’s nearly 20-year ban in the state, the greatest showman in fighting delivered an unforgettable act. McGregor, the experienced carnival barker from Dublin, was amped all week. During his pre-fight press conference, he almost threw a chair at Alvarez, who hails from Philadelphia. For his part, Alvarez had promised to “silence the country of Ireland” and yes, wait for it … “make America great again.”
McGregor-Alvarez capped off a long night. The fight went off at 1:21 am, after 10 preliminary and main card bouts. But the UFC enjoyed a wildly successful New York debut. Over 20,000 fans packed Madison Square Garden. The event generated a $17.7 million in gate revenues, new records for both the UFC and the Garden. The fights will likely surpass the UFC’s pay-per-view record, 1.65 million buys.
New York has been starving for big-event fights. Boxing has long shipped its glamour bouts to Las Vegas. Frank Sinatra, who photographed the Ali-Frazier “Fight Of The Century” in 1971 at Madison Square Garden, wouldn’t recognize UFC combat: kicking, wrestling, skin on skin smackdowns in a cage. UFC taps into a primal instinct. For some people extreme violence, like when one fighter holds another fighter’s head close to the ground, and bloodies his face with blow after blow, is just thrilling to watch.
In 1997 the state of New York banned mixed martial arts (MMA), which Sen. John McCain labeled “human cockfighting” in its unbridled early days. The UFC, after years of intense lobbying, finally harpooned New York in April, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill legalizing MMA. UFC has boomed for 15 years without a presence in the country’s largest market. So the impressive New York numbers bode well for the sport’s future. “Tonight was a massive win for the UFC,” says White.
His return trip to New York may depend on it.