If you have never been to a live UFC event, well you should — because live mixed martial arts is something special.
UFC 266 was a shining example of just that.
I had the pleasure of covering UFC 266 live and in person for Cageside Press this past Saturday. I was seated cageside for the entirety of the event, manning social media and taking notes on the fights while my colleague Gabriel Gonzalez was back in the media tent pumping out the post-fight interviews. On paper, UFC 266 was a good card — but what played out was something else entirely. A Round of the Year? Possibly one of the greatest featherweight title fights of all time? In short, the event turned out amazing and is a reminder that live MMA really should be experienced by every fight fan at some point.
Jonathan Pierce got the action started and got the crowd rocking with his walkout song, AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. After that, he finished Omar Morales, so he really started the night out with a bang.
The prelims were absolutely, thoroughly entertaining. Five finishes in eight fights. The only disappointment, something that continues to be disappointing, was the lack of fan attendance during the preliminary card. Why plonk down all that cash then skip out on half the show?
Typically the casual fan won’t show up until the main card, which I will never understand. Never. The prelims usually have some of the best fights, and if you’re paying $200-$1000 a ticket, why aren’t you fully enjoying the show? Whatever, to quote the great Max Holloway, “it is what it is.”
The main card started at 7:00PM local time, and by then at least, most people were in their seats. Something cool and nostalgic that the UFC does to start the main card is play Face the Pain. Face the Pain is the classic UFC intro; however, the UFC stopped using it to open broadcasts back at UFC 220 in 2018. Nevertheless, the song really gets you in the mood for fighting, and still goes over well live.
FACE THE PAIN. ❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/rXOso3vTdw
— Alex Behunin (@AlexBehunin) September 26, 2021
Something the UFC doesn’t show much of, that you really only get to experience live, is the fighters leaving the cage. Cynthia Calvillo, who lost via first-round TKO, left the octagon in tears and cried the entire way back. It was hard to watch, and you know Calvillo wanted this win so incredibly badly. The lows of the sport are ridiculously low. It just wasn’t her night. She’ll be back.
Curtis Blaydes walked out to the 90’s Mortal Kombat theme, and that was awesome to see/hear live. The fight, with Jair Rozenstruik, brought out the boo-birds, however, and it really halted the show’s energy. Blaydes is good, but his style just isn’t fan-friendly. That energy would come back in full force with the next fight.
The anticipation for Nick Diaz’s return to the octagon was something that is kind of indescribable. All I can say is I had chills and that feeling of butterflies in my stomach. He walked out to the Deftones (so did student Nick Maximov earlier in the night), and the crowd went nuts once he hit the tunnel.
The energy was insane pic.twitter.com/8IQjTdcvDv
— Alex Behunin (@AlexBehunin) September 26, 2021
It was kind of amazing to see that sort of crowd reaction, because Robbie Lawler is usually unquestionably the fan-favorite. But at UFC 266, the support Nick Diaz received blew him out of the water. Even in defeat, the crowd backed Diaz and cheered him as he walked to the locker room. Diaz even acknowledged the crowd on his way out.
Seeing Valentina Shevchenko dance after her victory live was fantastic, of course.
The highlight of the night, other than the awesome fights, was Brian Ortega’s walkout. It will go down in history as one of the coolest UFC walkouts ever; it would have been even more epic if Ortega had won, but nevertheless, it was very cool (and it has already made our list of best walkouts in MMA).
Once The Purge music hit, the crowd knew they were in for something special. Once Ortega hit the tunnel, and it was revealed he had a mask on, the walkout got better. The entrance was clearly thought out and executed perfectly.
The main event was great, and is already being called one of the best featherweight title fights of all time. I was lucky to be in attendance to witness it. Once Ortega locked up the mounted guillotine, the crowd went absolutely nuts. Defeaning. The crowd was clearly pro-Ortega, but after the fight, that seemed to change. I think the crowd flipped to Alexander Volkanovski. The Australian champ won them over.
The last thing to note was the post-fight interviews. Ortega’s post-fight speech brought some tears to people’s eyes. It was powerful. I forgot to mention Dan Hooker’s post-fight interview, but it was also compelling. What Hooker had to go through just to get there (not to mention opponent Nasrat Haqparast, who lost his mother ahead of the fight) showed incredible dedication.
All in all, UFC 266 delivered, and I am thankful to have been a part of it. I will say it again, if you have the chance, go to a UFC event. It is one of a kind, and the UFC knows how to put on a show. Oh, and show up for the damn prelims!