Though it has seen a handful of incarnations in the 130-plus years since its doors first opened, Madison Square Garden has transcended the earthly confines of its brick and mortar foundation to become nothing short of a global, cultural institution.
Hosting some of the most important, famous, and memorable fights in combat sports history, the Garden has long been a staple in the boxing world. And, on November 12, it will welcome UFC 205 into its hallowed halls; it's a pairing of the greatest arena on earth with the biggest mixed martial arts event, ever.
Forty-five years ago, Madison Square Garden was the backdrop for "The Fight of the Century," an all-time classic between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
The worlds of politics, celebrity culture, and boxing collided on March 8, 1971, when Frazier outpaced Ali for the lineal, WBA, and WBC heavyweight titles. Ali and Frazier would meet three years later, again at MSG; this time Ali would earn his revenge, taking a unanimous decision, before finishing the trilogy in 1975 with the "Thrilla in Manila."
Twenty years before Ali and Frazier, on October 26, 1951, heavyweight boxing legend Joe Louis made his final appearance inside the ring, taking on undefeated slugger Rocky Marciano. The bout at MSG was dubbed "The End of an Era."
While Louis had previously recorded 11 victories at #MadisonSquareGarden, including eight via knockout, the legendary champion, "The Brown Bomber," lost his final bout, falling to Marciano via TKO in the eighth round. The heavyweight boxing torch was passed that night.
Legendary boxers "Sugar" Ray Robinson and Jake Lamotta, "The Raging Bull," fought twice at Madison Square Garden during their storied six-fight rivalry. And, former heavyweight champion #GeorgeForeman even made his professional debut at MSG in 1969. Foreman would never lose on the Garden floor, finishing his career with eight wins inside the arena.
"Iron" #MikeTyson, a native of Brooklyn, also collected a pair of victories at Madison Square Garden, before he became the youngest heavyweight champ in history.
Beyond boxing, Madison Square Garden has also hosted many seminal cultural events. Its stage is synonymous with the finest in music and entertainment.
When the "Big Apple" was devastated by the events of September 11th, when the horrors of the Bangladesh Liberation War were first revealed to the world, and when the effects of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy threw millions of Americans into disarray, it was Madison Square Garden -- and more specifically, the benefit concerts held within it -- where the rebuilding process began.
Madison Square Garden has become as entrenched in the history of New York (and really, the United States) as Central Park, the Empire State Building, and maybe even the Statue of Liberty.
It has played host to Presidents and Popes alike. It has seen the Knicks win their first NBA championship, "The Great One," Wayne Gretzky, score his final goal, and #MarilynMonroe seduce a nation (John F. Kennedy included) with a sultry rendition of "Happy Birthday." Simply put, #MSG didn't earn the moniker of "The World’s Most Famous Arena" on a fluke, and on November 12, it will leave its everlasting stamp on the world of mixed martial arts.
The UFC's upcoming debut at Madison Square Garden is the culmination of a lifelong dream. The historic card in a legendary venue will feature what is undeniably the most remarkable collection of fights in promotional history. The culmination of the decades-long struggle to bring MMA to New York, UFC 205 also represents the incredible rate at which both the UFC and mixed martial arts have risen to the forefront of the cultural mainstream. It is nothing short of unprecedented.
In less than 25 years, the UFC has become synonymous with global sports entertainment, broadcast in over 145 countries and territories worldwide. The UFC has gone from the brink of bankruptcy to a multi-billion dollar valuation, and the drastic shift from underground spectacle to athletic innovation makes the event at Madison Square Garden feel all the more momentous.
Just as soon as Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill to finally legalize MMA in New York, the UFC announced its Manhattan debut. New York was that last hurdle to clear, the final domino to fall for mixed martial arts -- from here on out, it's straight domination.
Watching the UFC 205 card take shape over the last few months was straight euphoria, with everyone from New York natives like former middleweight champion #ChrisWeidman, to newly crowned welterweight champion #TyronWoodley, to one of the biggest stars in WMMA, #JoannaJedrzejczyk, to the "Notorious" pay-per-view king #ConorMcGregor, joining the ranks one-by-one.
Now, we are looking at an event so stacked with talent that it was forced to relegate two former champions -- #FrankieEdgar and #RashadEvans -- to its undercard. A six fight main card with three -- count 'em, three -- title fights; president #DanaWhite has already revealed that UFC 205 has broken the gate record for Madison Square Garden (subsequently making it the UFC's biggest gate ever). The show will be capped off by one of the biggest stars in the history of the sport attempting to become the first UFC fighter to hold two belts simultaneously.
It's not often that the central, defining moment of an entire sport can be traced back to one night, let alone prophesied before it actually happens, but all signs are pointing to that being the case with UFC 205. For MMA fans, we are truly on the precipice of history. And by the simple virtue of being booked in such an iconic arena, UFC 205 does not just signify the UFC entering its finest hour, it signifies the pinnacle of mixed martial arts -- the night in which MMA finally joins the ranks of so many great events in sports, entertainment, and history before it -- and one that somehow will manage to outshine them all.
And at the center of it all will be Madison Square Garden, with the eyes of the world watching vigilantly.