NEW YORK (AP) — With his mink coat left in the locker room, Conor McGregor is set to take a swing at UFC history.
No metal chair needed.
McGregor, who attempted to use a chair in a violent fashion at a pre-fight press conference, can become the first UFC fighter to hold championship belts in two divisions at the same time.
“It’s never even been close to a reality in this game, in the UFC,” McGregor said. “And then to do it on such a monumental stage like this, of course, this will be one of my shining moments.”
Imagine, McGregor strutting out of Madison Square Garden with two title belts over his shoulder in the same arena where the New York Rangers and New York Knicks aren’t even factors for one championship.
McGregor, boffo at the box office, earned his headline shot at a slice of UFC history once mixed martial arts and New York ended a two-decade fight and legalized the sport.
New York stripped the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” sign down and UFC stormed in with perhaps the most loaded card in the promotion’s history. McGregor fights UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in the main event of UFC 205 on Saturday night at MSG. Joanna Jedrzejczyk defends the women’s strawweight title against Karolina Kowalkiewicz and UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley fights Stephen Thompson.
It’s a card so “yuge,” so “bigly,” so terrific and fantastic, that President-elect Donald Trump has told UFC President Dana White he may sit cage-side. Seeing Trump at MSG wouldn’t be a surprise; White has talked about their friendship and even spoke at the Republican National Convention in July.
StubHub sold seats no cheaper than $700 as of Friday afternoon and a pair of floor seats could be yours for a cool $30,000.
That’s chump change for the Irish superstar McGregor. He rolled around New York in a custom-made black Rolls Royce Ghost with his “Notorious” nickname and his image emblazoned on the sides.
UFC could never have imagined such an uncomfortable ride toward New York legalization.
UFC worked for years on convincing politicians it made sense to regulate MMA and grant its fighters the opportunity to fight in the same venue as boxing champions like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. UFC often thumbed its nose at state lawmakers and held press conferences, fan expos, autograph sessions and meet-and-greets in Manhattan.
UFC ran its biggest cards in the East – including a Super Bowl weekend show in 2014 – roughly 14 miles west of Madison Square Garden at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
State lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed in April to end the ban. The law authorizing the sport took effect in September.
“The fight was ridiculous to get there,” UFC President Dana White said. “It should have never happened. But at the end of the day, it made it bigger.”
White billed 205 as the “biggest, baddest fight card in UFC history,” though the card was trimmed two bouts from the original slate. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans had a medical issue and his fight against Tim Kennedy was scrapped and booked for UFC 206. Kelvin Gastelum failed to make weight Friday and his fight against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone was canceled. Cerrone will be paid his show money and rebooked on a future card.
MSG will be stuffed with nearly 20,000 fans, 250 credentialed journalists, and make a serious run at some of the arena’s gate record.
Here’s some of what they’ll see:
ALVAREZ (C) vs. MCGREGOR
Alvarez, a Philadelphia native, makes his first title defense since he defeated Rafael Dos Anjos for the belt in July. Alvarez (28-4) also held the lightweight title in Bellator and has won the biggest bouts in front of him in various promotions.
He certainly doesn’t have McGregor’s name recognition. But he does have that belt. McGregor, also UFC’s featherweight champ following a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo, could be forced to vacate one of the belts if he holds both. White hasn’t decided if he will let McGregor defend championships in two classes. McGregor (20-3) made retirement threats earlier this year when he balked at some promotional demands and was yanked from UFC 200. He promised a big announcement after Saturday’s fight, though he offered few hints about his future.
Alvarez had said he would welcome a “gimme fight” with McGregor. McGregor vowed to retire Alvarez and attempt to swing a chair at the champ’s direction during a theatrical press conference at MSG.
“As far as the prediction, I believe fourth round,” McGregor said. “I know he’s durable. I don’t believe he’s been hit by anybody like me.”
WOODLEY (C) VS. THOMPSON
Woodley (16-3) is making his first title defense since he KO’d Robbie Lawlor in the first round at UFC 201. Thompson (13-1) has defeated Rory MacDonald and Johny Hendricks as part of a seven-fight winning streak that earned him a shot at the title.
Woodley, a collegiate wrester at the University of Missouri, looks to validate his title reign against one on the top strikers in MMA in Thompson.
“I’ve been working on my wrestling tremendously,” Thompson said. “Every time I step out there, I expect to get taken down, but I’m ready for it and I’ll pop right back up and get the fight where I want to keep it, and that’s standing.”
JEDRZEJCZYK (C) VS. KOWALKIEWICZ
This battle of unbeaten Polish fighters turned vicious when Jedrzejczyk (12-0) head-butted Kowalkiewicz (10-0) during a pre-fight staredown.
UFC has hyped this fight throughout Poland and every Polish bar it could find in New York. Jedrzejczyk shared a spot on the card with Ronda Rousey last year in Australia. She gets top billing this time on a card that also boasts former champ Miesha Tate fighting Raquel Pennington.
“I know that I’m not the prettiest one, I’m not having big boobies or I’m not American,” Jedrzejczyk said. “But I want people remember me as the best female fighter and as the undefeated MMA and the UFC champion of the world.”