THE GATE RECEIPTS and pay-per-view figures were record-breaking, but perhaps the firmest indicator of the success of the UFC’s debut in New York was the unusually affable disposition of the organisation’s president, Dana White, in his post-event press conference.
“I know that I don’t have the best relationship with you guys sometimes and everything else, but you guys were such a huge part of tonight,” he told the assembled media members — over 200 of whom were accredited — in the theatre lobby at Madison Square Garden in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“Thank you for everything that you do and all the hard work that you’ve put in over the years. Tonight was a massive win for the UFC, a huge win for the sport, and you’re all a big part of it. I’m not always the nicest guy to you guys. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.”
The journalists in attendance listened to White’s unexpected extension of an olive branch, struggling to come to terms with a rare moment in which he directly referred to the media as something other than “scumbags” or “a bunch of fuckin’ goofs”.
White may have been appreciative of the media coverage which contributed to ensuring that UFC 205 was the biggest event the organisation has ever held, but if anyone deserved thanks, it was the man whose left hand lit up the night’s headline bout.
UFC 205 was staffed by all the usual media outlets who follow the organisation across the USA and beyond. However, it was Conor McGregor who was responsible for last week’s rare foray into mixed martial arts for the likes of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
The list of MMA firsts that can be attributed to McGregor continues to grow. On Saturday night, the reigning featherweight title-holder toyed with lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez for just over eight minutes until he was confirmed as the only simultaneous dual-division UFC champion there has ever been.
Alvarez’s superior wrestling credentials were expected to be the main area of concern for McGregor in what was his first outing in the UFC’s 155lbs division. As is so often the case, the Dubliner deployed his range of clinical and precise striking to an extent that the defending champion could give him nothing to be concerned about.
“Conor is special,” said Dana White afterwards. “Everybody’s been saying, ‘Wait until he faces a wrestler, wait until he faces a wrestler’. He throws that left hand with no effort, but boy, when he touches people they go.”
Not only is McGregor now the biggest name in mixed martial arts, he’s one of the biggest stars in the entire world of sport. As an athlete and personality, the 28-year-old is peerless when it comes to those who have gone before him in the UFC.
WME-IMG, the UFC’s new owners, should subsequently be looking forward to a lucrative 2017, with McGregor primed to recoup a chunk of the $4.2billion that was paid for the company on his bosses’ behalf.
McGregor’s rapidly rising popularity and his fondness for staying active on big pay-per-view cards was a significant factor in WME-IMG’s decision to purchase the UFC. He has now fought four times in the last 11 months, generating a total of approximately seven million pay-per-view buys — and those numbers are only going in one direction.