NEW YORK – UFC 205 will be remembered mostly for what happened in the cage. Conor McGregor made history with a brilliant performance against Eddie Alvarez, winning the lightweight title with a second-round knockout before a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden.
That made McGregor, who entered the bout holding the featherweight title, the first man in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously.
But it should be remembered for what didn’t happen as well. Nobody was seriously injured. No one suffered a traumatic life-altering injury. No one died.
A ridiculous law signed in 1997 by then-Gov. George Pataki banning MMA in the state remained in effect until April, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill legalizing it.
And though the bill legalizing it passed the state assembly by a 113-25 vote, some of the comments made by those in opposition were so over the top it was laughable.
There were injuries, as there are in every contact sport. But every fighter on the card will be fine and won’t likely have any long-lasting impact from their bouts on this show.
It just showed how ludicrous New York politicians were over the last two decades in their handling of this. And on top of that, after legalizing the sport, they made insurance regulations so high that it’s essentially phased out small-to-medium boxing cards in the state.
The crowd of 20,407 paid a UFC-record $17.7 million for the right to see the show.
It was hardly the greatest show ever, as it was billed, but it was an example of what MMA at its highest level can be. The legislators made their constituents wait for nearly two decades for little to no reason.
The crowd was, to be honest, somewhat disappointing. There were large patches of empty seats throughout the undercard, and there weren’t many huge, sustained roars during the main card that have been heard in other arenas.
UFC president Dana White had no problem with the crowd, the city or even his biggest nemesis, the Las Vegas Culinary Union. He blamed the union, which lobbied the New York legislature heavily in order to get it not to approve the bill legalizing the sport because it was angered by the fact that former UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta’s casinos in Las Vegas aren’t unionized.
White beamed and said, “Thank you Las Vegas Culinary Union,” after noting that the promotion broke most of its sales records. It set a record for highest paid gate, highest arena attendance and White said the pay-per-view sales will be a record.
Middleweight Chris Weidman, a Baldwin, N.Y., native, suffered probably the most significant injury when he was knocked out with a knee to the face from Yoel Romero. He attended the post-fight news conference with his left eye swollen shut, but he, too, had all of his faculties.
“I’m here smiling and answering questions,” he said.
Weidman was one of the most dogged fighters in the pursuit of legalizing the sport in the state, going to Albany to speak to senators and assemblymen. He would leave believing he’d soon be able to fight at home only to be disappointed.
But assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, who refused for years to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, was arrested on federal corruption charges in 2015, and that seemed to make a huge difference.
“I’d go to Albany and speak with the senators and talking with them later, they’d say there was a lot of optimism that it would passed, and it never did,” he said. “And then a couple of people got arrested and things changed.”
Fighter safety is critical, and no legislator could be blamed for wanting to make it a priority, but arguments from legislators speaking against the bill were essentially divorced from reality.
The sport is now as mainstream as it has ever been. McGregor is a massive star and is only getting bigger.
After revealing at the post-fight news conference that he soon will be a father, he said he wants equity partnership in the company.
That, though, is a story for another day. This was a win for MMA, for fair play, and for fighters who dreamed for years of competing in what is known as the world’s most famous arena.
“This is some place, New York,” McGregor said. “The city is amazing.”
This was a win-win. It lined the pockets of the UFC owners, as well as the fighters like McGregor who received a cut of the pay-per-view. It was a win for the sport in general, as it got the opportunity to showcase itself in the media capital of the world.
And it finally washed away the stench of two decades of ignorance and corruption.