Ok, I admit it. I am a little late to the game. Writing about my first in-person UFC experience, at UFC 235 in March, is a little bit like writing about an NFL expansion franchise in its 15th season of play. However, if my intent was to assess the energy of a UFC crowd, No. 235 seemed appropriate. (That’s a nod to any nuclear physicists reading this column).
I had certainly watched and followed UFC on TV, where the action is focused on the Octagon, but I did not have a sense of what the scene at a UFC event would be like. Would it be akin to a boxing title bout from a bygone era in Las Vegas? Would it feel more like a Big Ten wrestling meet? A martial arts exhibition? A WWE event? The atmosphere—at least at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for UFC 235—had all of those elements. Approaching the venue, just off the Vegas Strip, was indeed reminiscent of walking up to a marquis boxing event in the era when boxing was more relevant, and the fight introductions by Bruce Buffer (half-brother of famed boxing and wrestling announcer Michael Buffer) furthered the similarity. (As an aside, what do you think the Buffer Thanksgiving dinner is like with these two around? Someone in the kitchen announces that dinner is ready and a cry of “IT’S TIME!” comes from the couch and “GET YOUR STOMACH READY TO RUMBLE!” comes from the Barcalounger?)
T-Mobile Arena, with its circular configuration, was an ideal complement to the Octagon. There really was not a bad seat in the house. The pace of the evening’s proceedings, especially the five-bout main card, was fast, and the energy did not wane. Three of the five main bouts—the light heavyweight, the welterweight and the women’s—each went the five-round distance, so the crowd was treated to plenty of high-quality action. Kamaru Usman used an array of techniques to claim the welterweight title from Tyron Woodley, and Jon Jones showed his dominance by retaining his light heavyweight title against a game Anthony Smith, despite a two-point deduction for an illegal knee to the head in the fourth round. While Jones’ kicks were an effective weapon in his arsenal, the UFC aficionados who guided me through the night’s action pointed to his wrestling background as being the key ingredient to his success.
The mixed fighting backgrounds of the combatants were mirrored by the mixed reasons why the 14,790 in attendance had paid the hefty admission fee. Sure, some were there for bloodlust—and they certainly got to see some blood. Others were there for the spectacle, and why do we go to Vegas if not for spectacle? WWE fans would have recognized the provocative antics of former UFC welterweight champ Colby Covington outside the Octagon, taunting Usman. And fans of martial arts would have appreciated the mutual respect that the fighters invariably showed each other after the bouts, in keeping with the traditions of that discipline.
Generally speaking, it was a dedicated and knowledgeable fan base, and one that took an interest in the entire card. The crowd did not just mingle until the main event, and neither did I. Instead, I found that I had an unexpected appreciation of the uniqueness of each fight.
Bob Latham is a partner at the law firm Jackson Walker, L.L.P., and a World Rugby board member. A compilation of his best columns titled “Winners & Losers: Rants, Riffs and Reflections on the World of Sports,” is available for purchase at amazon.com.