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Dublin: 7 °C Monday 1 June, 2020

Letter from New York: UFC's Madison Square Garden debut trumped by US election

Conor McGregor is aiming to make history but Donald Trump is the headline act in New York.

The UFC 205 open workouts took place yesterday at Madison Square Garden.
The UFC 205 open workouts took place yesterday at Madison Square Garden.
Image: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

– Paul Dollery reports from New York

HAVING LOBBIED LONG and hard for the abolishment of the ban on professional mixed martial arts in the Empire State, the UFC have made a big deal of their inaugural event in New York City.

Across Manhattan, electronic billboards advertise Saturday’s sold-out UFC 205, which will be headlined by Conor McGregor’s challenge for Eddie Alvarez’s lightweight title. According to UFC president Dana White, the event has “broken the gate record” at Madison Square Garden.

As evidenced by the quality of fighters on the card, the UFC want this to be bigger and better than anything they’ve done in the past. The organisation has grown substantially in recent years, to the extent that it was sold in July for over $4billion. This first visit to New York, the USA’s biggest media market, feels like a significant step in the maturity of the organisation and the sport of mixed martial arts itself.

Therefore, the scheduling of this event to coincide with the most controversial US presidential election ever to take place was perhaps naive. When confirmation of Donald Trump’s status as president-elect emerged in the early hours of yesterday morning, the importance of a sporting event was suddenly diminished.

When UFC president Dana White spoke in support of Trump at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland earlier this year, he probably hadn’t considered the implications of a Trump victory for the biggest event in the history of the organisation of which he’s been president for the past 15 years.

The UFC 205 open workouts took place yesterday morning on the floor of the arena at Madison Square Garden. The number of fans that turned up to witness McGregor’s brief training session barely reached four figures, when many more would have been expected to attend the free event to get a glimpse of MMA’s biggest star.

Source: UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship/YouTube

While McGregor was hitting pads and shooting hoops, Hillary Clinton was delivering her concession speech three blocks away down Eighth Avenue at the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel. It was McGregor’s first official appearance in New York, but on this occasion he was just here to take part.

“I just could not give a bollocks,” McGregor said when asked about Trump by BT Sport just hours before his election victory. “The whole thing is just weird to me.”

After the workouts, the UFC 205 media day was held in Madison Square Garden’s lobby theatre. Questions about Trump’s impending presidency were almost as common as those relating to the fighters’ bouts this weekend.

UFC 205 has featured in the local media, with McGregor appearing on NBC’s sports bulletin last night. However, the coverage has been far less prominent than it would have been in a non-election week.

That may change come Saturday if New Yorkers begin to yearn for a semblance of normality and the escapism that sport provides. Today’s press conference [at 8pm Irish time] will also give McGregor an opportunity to make some fresh headlines.

“I run New York,” he defiantly declared during September’s press conference to promote this weekend’s fight. But McGregor’s takeover of the Big Apple looks like it will have to wait. This week, he’s certainly not the main event.

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About the author:

Paul Dollery

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