It didn't truly hit me that I was at an historic event on Saturday night until the familiar sound of Sinead O'Connor's voice started serenading the screaming crowd of more than 20,000 fans at Madison Square Garden.
Objectively, I knew going in that #UFC205 was a big day for not only the promotion but mixed martial arts as a whole, the culmination of an extremely drawn out and bitter fight to get the sport legalized in New York. Coupled with the possible coronation of #ConorMcGregor as the king of two divisions, the event had a weight to it unlike any other UFC card is history that had the whole city buzzing and brought out big celebrities like #HughJackman and Madonna, plus nearly 300 credentialed media members.
Even knowing all that and seeing the enormous audience for just the weigh-ins, it still took me a while to feel the gravity of the situation.
It's not that I wasn't excited for the evening of fights, as the card was filled to the brim with amazing matchups that, for the most part, delivered. However, it was clear that the audience and its contingent of Irish "Notorious" fans were anxious all night long to see their man make history, which is why it felt like the electricity in the stadium didn't really come out in full force until it got closer and closer to the main event. Of course, fighters like champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk and hometown hero Chris Weidman received a ton of love from the crowd during their entrances, but they were nothing compared to McGregor's walk to the Octagon.
Perhaps it was the infectious energy of the Irish supporters that finally made me realize I wasn't at your typical UFC event. Sure, I've experienced their undying passion a number of times before while covering other cards featuring McGregor and his infamous walkouts. But this time around, I couldn't help but get the chills while watching his fans rejoice over a few verses of "Foggy Dew" before the entire arena erupted at the sound of 50 Cent's "I Run New York." It was a perfect pairing of tunes that served as a shot of energy to the arm of everyone in attendance as 1 a.m. approached.
The noise level rose to a crescendo when Bruce Buffer yelled his famous phrase "It's time!" in unison with the roaring the crowd. That's when it truly clicked for me that we were all about to bare witness to history.
Knowing that the majority of fans in the arena had his back, McGregor seemed ultra cool and collected while waiting to take on Eddie Alvarez. This demeanor extended to his performance inside the Octagon, where the featherweight champ threw every shot with a powerful, zen-like confidence that, in the end, turned out to be too much for the Philadelphia fighter. Each knockdown, each taunt, ignited a frenzy in the stands until everyone finally lost their collective heads as they watched Alvarez come crashing down to the canvas in round two.
The moment McGregor raised his hands in victory, it seemed like the MSG crowd breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of their beloved warrior making good on his promise to take the belt. They couldn't contain their adulation for him and continued to shower the now two-division champ in cheers as he broke out his bravado during the post-fight interview. The feeling of the room was like a mix of a World Series game and a sold-out rock concert.
It was a huge evening for McGregor, but also the sport, which could finally add its own chapter to the Garden's history book. The venue where greats like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, and countless other pugilists left it all in the ring now played host to MMA's arguable GOAT and his finest win.
Leaving the arena at 3:30 a.m., a solemn quietness had taken over the city that never sleeps, providing me with a brief moment for reflection. As I looked back on the Garden, I was in awe over the fact that I had just seen the biggest event in UFC history to date. However, knowing that it wouldn't be the last huge night for the promotion at the historic venue made everything even sweeter.