Big Apple gearing up for sweet and sour taste of MMA
Published 08/11/2016 | 02:30
On Saturday night, 23 years to the day since staging their first ever event, the UFC will arrive at a seminal moment - and Conor McGregor has been charged with carrying it to a momentous conclusion.
In March, after years of lobbying and bureaucratic wrangling, the New York state assembly senate finally legalised MMA.
To mark their long-awaited arrival in the Big Apple, the UFC have put together an unprecedented showcase of the most accomplished and marketable talent at their disposal.
UFC 205 will be hosted at Madison Square Garden, the venue for so many of boxing's greatest nights, and will feature three world title fights on a pay-per-view broadcast that could be the first of the promotion's to break two million buys.
At the summit of this card, the UFC have placed McGregor, a figurehead with an unrivalled ability to generate capital.
McGregor, too, is on the verge of breaking new ground in this fledging sport. Should he defeat lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in the five-round main event, the Dubliner will be the first fighter to concurrently hold titles in two weight classes.
Such has been the sport's rapid evolution - inside and outside of the cage - the action on Saturday will bear little resemblance to what was served up in Denver, Colorado back in 1993.
In those early shows, fighters were not beholden to any discernible rules, weight classes, rounds or even the crudest of drugs tests.
And the vulgarity of those primitive days is largely why MMA is still waging wars on the perception front.
While some argue that the sport is still niche, the money changing hands in the upper echelons tells a different story.
In July, entertainment conglomerate WWE-IMG, and other various partners, bought the UFC for $4bn - the previous majority shareholders, the Fertitta brothers, had purchased the company for just $2m in 2001.
That investment should only bode well for MMA's future; however, behind the scenes things appear far from harmonious.
Apart from announcing 23 new celebrity investors, many of whom they manage, WWE-IMG have done little by way of addressing the media, fans or their new employees.
What they have done is lay off almost 15pc of their front-office staff around the globe, including prominent executives who played pivotal roles in breaking new markets - and all this against a backdrop of eerie silence.
The majority of fighters remain low-paid - it looks like the near-600 of them on the UFC roster may try and unionise.
Saturday night is likely to justify all expectation and prove a celebration of MMA's progression but, further over the horizon, nothing seems certain.