The second week of November—when another presidential campaign season that won't ever end finally does—is going to suck. For most of us, the 2016 election is one of negative stakes: between two majority-party candidates we despise, which one can we hold our noses and pull the lever for on November 8? And if we were looking to be persuaded or illuminated before becoming complicit in the politics so many of us claim to hate, we probably didn’t find it in Monday night's debate from Hempstead, New York, in which candidates confirmed the things we already thought about them and talking heads talked about two people talking with familiar pugilistic clichés.
But yesterday, when the curtain went up a few dozen miles to the west at New York City's Madison Square Garden and a dozen actual face-punchers graced the stage for the UFC 205 press conference, the echoes of Monday night's breathless bullshitting went silent.
It's not an exaggeration to say that UFC 205—held at the Garden on November 12, four days after Election Day—is the promotion's most competitive and most consequential all-around fight card. The main event, where featherweight king and transatlantic cultural force Conor McGregor faces 155-pound champion Eddie Alvarez, is the UFC first cross-divisional champion-versus-champion bout in more than seven years. The rest of the pay-per-view card is an embarrassment of riches, rounded out with title fights between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson as well as Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, along with bouts featuring 145ers Frankie Edgar and Jeremy Stephens, welterweights Kelvin Gastelum and Donald Cerrone, and top-ranked middleweights Chris Weidman and Yoel Romero. It's a line-up so good that former champions Miesha Tate and Rashad Evans are down on the prelims, and that UFC President Dana White glossed over the fact that lightweight contenders Michael Johnson and Khabib Nurmagomedov had been added until he mentioned it halfway through the press conference.
Just last week, the UFC’s debut in Manhattan looked like an anticlimax. A title fight with Woodley-Thompson was fine and Gastelum was an okay consolation for losing Robbie Lawler, Cerrone's original opponent, but this was supposed to be a moment. This was supposed to be the celebration of overturning a nearly 20-year ban on the sport, a political war of attrition in the last MMA-fearing stronghold. This card needed more than a few good fights: it needed a celebrity on the marquee.
With the exception of Ronda Rousey, McGregor's name means more than any other MMA fighter when it comes to whetting the appetite of the country's largest media market. When word came late Monday that McGregor would fight Alvarez in the first cross-divisional champions bout since Georges St. Pierre versus BJ Penn, the card got its diamond-encrusted anchor. And on Tuesday, to the surprise of no one who's been paying attention for the last year and a half, the presser quickly became a showcase for McGregor as he needled Alvarez.
"Look at everybody up here," McGregor said, gesturing to the dudes with pocket squares in their suits that surrounded him. "They're all dressed like me. They're all trying to talk like me. They're all trying to be me. Everybody in the game wants this fight. This is the lottery fight and [Eddie] took it on his last contract. Imagine that. Imagine getting the biggest fight in the history of the game and saying, 'Shut your mouth kid! You're getting paid what you got in your last fight, and you're lucky you're even getting that.'" (Alvarez, who ignored the boos and laughed in McGregor's face, said he was fine with his purse. "This guy's easy money," Alvarez said.) Elsewhere, McGregor shut down Jeremy Stephens's cheesy attempt at edging into his spotlight ("Who the fuck is that guy?"), and an audience member who initially looked and sounded the part of a reporter asking a banal question ended up being a McGregor fanboy who swore at Alvarez and flipped him the bird. Have a look at the full thing for yourself.
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UFC 205 finally feels like the moment it should have been, though not without collateral damage. Denied his chance against Alvarez, Nurmagomedov said the UFC had become a "freak show.” Denied a promised bout with McGregor and deceived too many times by the UFC, interim featherweight champion and long-reigning 145-pound king Jose Aldo asked for his UFC contract to be terminated. "I don’t want any type of fight with the UFC," Aldo told Combate, as transcribed and translated by MMA Junkie. "The only thing I want is to move on with my life and that they move on with theirs." Al Iaquinta, Weidman's 155-pound teammate, was recently removed from his scheduled UFC 205 bout with Thiago Alves and said he was ready to walk away from the UFC because of longstanding issues with how the promotion has treated him. There's still more than six weeks to go until fight day, too. The "fight cards subject to change disclaimer" could kick in, and everything could fall apart.
But if the center holds, UFC 205 will mark the triumphant return of mixed martial arts to the Empire State. Watching that many good fights in sort-of-virgin territory will also provide a palliative for the aftermath of what's likely to be a painful Tuesday in electoral politics. Living under a democracy provokes hard choices, but fighting solves everything, even if it's just for a Saturday night in the big city.
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