It was the mid-1990s when Gov. George Pataki asked Randy Gordon of the New York State Athletic Commission his opinion regarding UFC and mixed martial arts. Gordon watched videos of UFC 1 and UFC 2 and figured he had seen enough.
Gordon went before the State Legislature in Albany and compared the UFC to “street fighting without the beer bottles” and offered this scathing assessment: “I said, ‘If you allow this in the state of New York, there’s going to be bloodshed throughout the state. But it’s going to be on your hands and not mine.’ ”
MMA was soon banned in New York, from 1997 until March 2016, when a bill was passed by the State Assembly legalizing the sport in the Empire State.
In the years between, the UFC went from a no-holds-barred blood sport to a billion-dollar global attraction drawing legions of fans and pay-per-view customers around the world. In addition to staging sold-out events, there also were several years spent lobbying politicians in Albany and galvanizing support to get MMA legalized in New York again.
All the hard work, all the hours spent in Albany become worth it Saturday night when the UFC finally makes its debut at Madison Square Garden with a card UFC president Dana White called the “biggest and baddest fight card” in the promotional company’s history.
“The fight was ridiculous to get here,” White said this week. “It should have never happened. But at the end of the day it made it bigger, it made it a bigger event and it made it more special. I wouldn’t change it at all.”
It’s so big ticket prices range from $800 to $8,000. UFC 205 will easily break the Garden’s record gate of $10.8 million set in 1999 when Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis fought for the heavyweight title. Some 21,000 fans are expected to pack the arena.
A crowd of 15,000 set a UFC record for a weigh-in on Friday, when Ronda Rousey made a surprise appearance to pose with UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. Their bout is Dec. 30 in Las Vegas.
If the weigh-in is any indication, Saturday night figures to be electric.
Conor McGregor, the featherweight champion, will try to become the UFC’s first title holder in two divisions when he challenges Eddie Alvarez for his lightweight title in the main event. It’s one of three title fights headlining the card.
Tyron Woodley defends his welterweight title against Stephen Thompson and women’s strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk defends her belt against Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Also on the card, former UFC middleweight champ and Long Island native Chris Weidman meets Yoel Romero. Former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar of Toms River, N.J., takes on Jeremy Stephens, and former women’s bantamweight champ Miesha Tate faces Raquel Pennington.
“They made New York proud with the fights,” Weidman said. “They gave New York what it deserved for all those years missing out on this sport. I think they gave them the best card in the history of the sport.”
It’s full circle for the UFC, which was created in New York at an office on 57th and Park Avenue. UFC 1 was held on Nov. 12, 1993, at McNichols Arena in Denver. Back then it was martial art versus martial art in a tournament format. Some 86,000 bought the event on pay-per-view that night. An estimated 1.6 million purchases are expected for UFC 205. It’s the energy in the building when Bruce Buffer yells “It’s time!” that figures to be a goose-bump moment.
“Madison Square Garden is probably the most famous arena on earth,” White said. “When this goes down on Saturday, when everybody starts walking in and the fights start to begin it’s going to be awesome.”
There have been plenty of theatrics during the week, including a press conference that looked more like something you would see at Wrestlemania. McGregor has been the ultimate showman, talking trash and riding around the city in a Rolls Royce. It takes a big personality to play the Big Arena.
“I’ve been driving around embracing the city,” he said. “The city has treated me amazingly. They’ve been showing me a lot of love. I’ve been driving around having fun, training, shopping; just living my life. It’s the Mac life.”
All the lobbying, all the politics, and all the hopes and the hype finally culminate with UFC 205 on Saturday night. Finally.
Kelvin Gastelum didn’t make weight, causing his fight with Donald Cerrone to be canceled.