UFC 205, the greatest event in the history of mixed martial arts is just days away. Can you dig it?
Fighters from far and wide will convene at Madison Square Garden, transforming New York City, the capital of the world, into the center of the MMA universe. The turf is theirs, finally.
And while this story of the UFC and its MMA warriors will culminate in a massive celebration on November 12, the 23rd anniversary of the promotion, the victory party will also signify the end of 19 barren years without professional mixed martial arts in New York. A truce has been called, and MMA is finally free to take its place as the premiere combat sport in the world.
But these 26 fighters, the ones named McGregor and Alvarez, Woodley and Thompson, and Jędrzejczyk and Kowalkiewicz, are no mere boppers, roaming the streets in pursuit of violence. They’re a collection of some of the finest athletic specimens on planet Earth, expertly trained in boxing and wrestling, karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and judo.
These six champions and challengers atop the UFC 205 card have also always been free to compete in their respective hometowns. So while theey will fight for the most coveted titles in MMA, former UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman truly understands how the event is not only a dream come true, but also a miracle for the entire state of New York.
A native of Baldwin, a small town of 24,000 in nearby Long Island, Weidman will drive just 28 miles from his suburban home to the Garden, the most famous arena in combat sports. But during his five years with the UFC, #ChrisWeidman has traveled some 40,502 miles to compete inside the Octagon, making routine trips to Las Vegas, San Jose, and elsewhere just to pursue his passion and profession.
Weidman’s adversary at UFC 205, #YoelRomero, has traveled far less to fight for the UFC, amassing 17,292 career miles from his home base in Miami. But November 12 signifies a different form of freedom for Romero, a Cuban national and Olympic silver medalist. A defector from Castro’s Cuba, Romero will represent New York City’s 70,000-plus Cuban refugees. His presence on the world stage will shine like a beacon for his compatriots, for whom New York and America are a life-saving grace.
For New Jersey native #FrankieEdgar, New York is a different kind of ideal. A Garden State warrior, former lightweight champion, and perennial underdog, Edgar has logged nearly 107,000 Octagon miles, traveling to Abu Dhabi, Tokyo, Houston, and Denver to compete for the title. For UFC 205, that distance will be cut down significantly, as Madison Square Garden is just 76 miles from his home in Tom’s River.
Edgar’s friend, lightweight #KhabibNurmagomedov, has traveled more than 98,000 miles from the Russian Republic of Dagestan to display his dominant wrestling inside the Octagon. The mileage total is even more staggering considering he’s only competed in the UFC on seven occasions. He’ll be fighting for the more than 600,000 Russians living in New York City, many based in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach. The distance Nurmagomedov has covered since signing with the UFC will, no doubt, be worth it to parade through Madison Square Garden sporting his white, fuzzy papakha amid the chants and cheers from his Eastern Bloc brethren.
The ethnic makeup of New York City provides the perfect backdrop for these UFC combat warriors. Headliner #ConorMcGregor, the featherweight champion who is aiming to become the first athlete in UFC history to hold titles in two weight classes, simultaneously, will fight for the city’s 400,000-plus Irish residents. There is no question that several thousand more will arrive straight from the "Emerald Isle" come fight night; McGregor has crisscrossed the globe some 63,444 miles since signing with the UFC in 2013, and he always brings a deep entourage, passionate to support its fighting Irish star.
Non-stop chants of “ole, ole” will be lost on UFC Lightweight Champion #EddieAlvarez. A native of Philadelphia, Alvarez grew up less than 100 miles from MSG. And while he’s only fought in the UFC for two years, the “Underground King” has traversed the world, competing for organizations in Japan and across the United States. On November 12, he’ll be fighting on behalf of New York’s 1.2-million Puerto Ricans. The crowd noise for the UFC 205 main event at Madison Square Garden will likely reach an all-time high, and this is a venue where Slayer and The Who have kicked out the jams for decades.
Attempting the first defense of the welterweight title he won in July, #TyronWoodley will strap on the four-ounce gloves, representing New York’s African American community, some 375,000 strong. A native of Ferguson, Missouri, Woodley has traveled with the Octagon for nearly 32,000 miles. At UFC 205, he’s intent on adding his name to the ranks of the many great black combat sports heroes like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Mike Tyson, all of whom scored victories at the midtown building along Pennsylvania Plaza.
#StephenThompson, the all-American “Wonderboy” from South Carolina, is hoping to spoil Woodley’s coronation. He’ll, no doubt, attempt to dazzle the crowd of 21,000 fans with his spinning attacks and karate prowess.
The UFC 205 card is laden with international rivalries, as combatants from Ireland, Cuba, Mexico, and Brazil take on American adversaries. But for strawweight champion #JoannaJędrzejczyk, her opponent comes in the form of fellow Polish striker #KarolinaKowalkiewicz. The pair previously fought during their amateur days, but Jędrzejczyk has become a supernova in the mixed martial arts world, winning the title in March 2015, defending the belt three times since. This all-Polish matchup will be the biggest MMA fight in Poland’s history; 215,000 Poles based in New York City will be eagerly anticipating the bout.
November 12 is not only a victory for those who fight mixed martial arts, it’s a massive win for the fans of New York, many of whom have lived their entire lives without being able to see a professional MMA event on home turf. The long and winding journey of the Octagon has been lead by the UFC, a promotion that has trekked around the world some 1,546,262 miles before finally hosting an event in New York City. That’s more than 62 trips around the globe for #DanaWhite and his staff, many of whom are completely unknown outside the inner circles of the UFC and the MMA bubble, but all of whom have contributed significantly to the undertaking and production of UFC 205.
And lest we forget about legit MMA stars like former light heavyweight champion and The Ultimate Fighter winner #RashadEvans, a native of Niagara Falls, upstate. “Suga” traveled 64,000-plus miles alongside the Octagon before finally being able to make the walk in front of his New York faithful. He’ll be joined at UFC 205 by Blackzilians teammate #MichaelJohnson, who has totaled over 58,000 Octagon miles.
#DonaldCerrone is also on the card. In fact, he’s recorded more wins (18) and finishes (12) inside the Octagon than any other fighter competing at UFC 205. And it only took him 46,396 miles to finally touch down in the "Big Apple." There's no telling what a "Cowboy" on the loose can do in New York City, but Cerrone will certainly be looking to add to his 13 fight-night bonuses.
His opponent at UFC 205, #KelvinGastelum, has yet to crack the 20,000 mile mark during his nine fights inside the Octagon. But at just 25 years old, Gastelum has the better part of a decade remaining to become a UFC frequent flyer. New York City’s roughly 290,000 Mexican and Mexican American residents will surely be pulling for him on November 12.
The UFC 205 fight card is so deep and rich with talent and star power, there’s nary a fight and fighter not worth addressing. One-time UFC champion #MieshaTate, one of the most popular figures in women’s MMA, will open up the main card against a streaking #RaquelPennington. Last time out, Tate headlined #UFC200, one of the biggest events of the year; her inclusion on the front end of the pay-per-view card is a testament to her popularity and skill.
Then there’s the lightweight matchup between veterans #JimMiller, who calls New Jersey home, and #ThiagoAlves, a Florida-based Brazilian. With 44 UFC appearances between them, Miller and Alves have also distinguished themselves as the card’s premier submission and knockout artists, respectively. For Miller, grappling has always been his forte, and his six Octagon submissions are tops on the UFC 205 card; Alves, who has travelled more than 98,000 miles during his decade with the promotion, leads the UFC 205 knockout count with eight.
And as the conversation shifts to knockout power, one can not forget #JeremyStephens, the “Lil Heathen” who famously, and flagrantly, stepped into Conor McGregor’s verbal firing range at the UFC 205 press conference. Stephens, a 23-time Octagon competitor with 12 wins and six knockouts to his name, has traveled over 50,000 miles for the chance to thrust his fists in fits of aggression at the Garden.
Middleweight #RafaelNatal undoubtedly will have the shortest trek to #MSG on November 12. A native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, “Sapo” is based in Manhattan, where he teaches BJJ at the famed Renzo Gracie Academy, just a few blocks from Madison Square Garden. Considered an honorary New Yorker by his elite grappling peers, Natal will be gunning for his tenth Octagon win at UFC 205. #TimBoetsch, “The Barbarian,” will do everything in his superhuman power to silence the New York crowd and make it his own.
Another Tim, #TimKennedy is also hoping to have the New York crowd on his side. Not only a warrior, but also a decorated war hero, Kennedy returns to the Octagon for the first time in over two years. And while Kennedy has yet to crack 10,000 miles with the UFC, he’s logged thousands on behalf of the United States Armed Forces. His New York debut is a tribute to the more than 1.2-million soldiers and officers currently enlisted in the military.
These warriors, the UFC warriors, have finally arrived on the biggest stage in sports. They’ve come to play, and play for keeps, and on November 12, 2016, they’ll make the biggest offering a collection of mixed martial artists have ever contributed to the universe: UFC 205.