As a native Long Islander, UFC 223 from Brooklyn, New York, was a must-attend event, even after all the bad news and mishaps that plagued fight week.
I have been to several UFC events in my lifetime, UFC 189 most notably, but I had not attended a New York event since it was legalized two years ago. UFC 223 seemed like a perfect time to knock it off the bucket list. My ticket was purchased two weeks away from the event (surely I wouldn’t get Aldo-ed again after waiting this long), and all that was to be done was wait.
The Tony Ferguson news was a gut-punch that healed up quite quickly with the announcement that featherweight champion Max Holloway would replace him. Sure, I wouldn’t get to see the most anticipated fight in the UFC, but I’ll get to see the featherweight champ prove how badass he is by taking on the most feared lightweight on the roster on just a week’s notice.
The pre-fight press conference, the embeddeds, everything was building up the hype for this event so effectively following the two-week hiatus from Octagon action. Then Conor happened. Following the news and details trickle out was excruciating. Who’s hurt? What really happened? What’s the punishment? By the time all the details rolled in and video that captured the incident was released, we knew that Ray Borg and Michael Chiesa were affected by the broken glass and were unfortunately pulled from the card.
Two great fights down due to a ridiculous and entirely unexpected occurrence, but the depth of this card is what made it special. It was far from dead. Then Friday happened. Max Holloway was told to stop cutting weight, and all of a sudden we didn’t have a main event.
From there it was refreshing Twitter and navigating through the madness of trying to find Khabib an opponent. First, it was Anthony Pettis. Then he couldn’t agree to a deal with the UFC. Next, it was Paul Felder. Then New York said he couldn’t get a title shot because he wasn’t ranked(???). Next was Al Iaquinta. Then New York said he couldn’t fight for a title because he weighed 155.2 pounds (with underwear on and very early in the weigh-in window keep in mind).
The promotion was able to convince the incompetent state to allow Iaquinta to fight Khabib for a kinda-fake kinda-real title but who really knows? It hurt to lose Felder and Pettis since they would not fight each other as Roufusport stablemates. The remains of the fight card were set, and my train ride to the arena was pushed back two hours as a result of the 8:00 EST start time (originally 6:15).
The Barclays Center was packed, it was as full as I’ve ever seen it. Islanders games don’t fill the arena quite as much during the season. The first thing I did was knock down a fan’s beer as I made my way to my seat. Like UFC 223 was down four fights quickly, I was down $15 right away. If you are reading this, I am incredibly sorry.
Here’s the view from section 202 by the way:
There was a solid energy to the crowd even after the two slower fights to start the night. Olivier Aubin-Mercier’s quick KO really put the night in gear, and the featured prelim between Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Felice Herrig kept that going. Karolina had plenty of fan support from a crowd that went through a few “USA” chants throughout the night.
The Baba O’Reilly montage video the UFC plays before a pay-per-view main card is still incredible.
All the joy in the building that followed the early fight of the night candidate was sucked away as we watched fan-favorite Joe Lauzon lose an early lead and get battered for 10 minutes. It’s terrible to see this point of a fighter’s career after he gave so much to the organization. The volume of the crowd really dissipated as a result of the contest.
But Zabit and Kyle Bochniak put on a show for the ages. The crowd’s choice fighter went from Bochniak because of USA vs. Russia, then for Zabit after seeing his style, then back to Bochniak after unleashing his inner maniac. That momentum was immediately consumed by the Calvin Kattar vs. Renato Moicano bout, which provoked “Let’s start fighting” chants from the restless crowd.
New York was very behind Rose Namajunas. The crowd pop was much more noticeable whenever she was on the big screen compared to the former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The fight was great too. In a technical and fast-paced fight like that, it can be hard to tell who’s winning the exchanges when you’re seated in the upper-deck and want to watch the fighters rather than the big screen. I went into the decision thinking it was a fight that could’ve gone either way when general consensus said that Rose clearly won the fight. Oh well.
Also, “I’m just better,” is up there with, “You’ve taken everything I’ve worked for motherf***er,” and “Anderson Silva… you absolutely suck!” in terms of greatest post-fight lines ever.
The main event was a feel-good time all around. We got to see Khabib fight, and if he lost, it was to one of New York’s own. The love for each fighter was fairly even. Everyone wants to see Khabib vs. Conor one day, but Iaquinta with a belt around his waist would have been amazing.
The crowd was really into the main event and knew what to expect. The cheers peaked when Al escaped a takedown, and crescendoed as Khabib worked for one along the fence. Of course, Iaquinta did not win, but you could tell the crowd appreciated him stepping up on such short notice to take on a killer like Khabib.
As I mentioned before, this looked like a sold-out crowd. Which was great considering refunds were offered the day before after the event underwent many changes. The live gate numbers set a record for the arena with over 17,000 fans in attendance. It’s safe to say UFC 223 still found a way to deliver.