2. New York, NY, USA
Ask any combat sports fan what they feel is the most iconic arena in the world, and usually, the first answer (or one of the first) is New York City’s Madison Square Garden. In fact, many hopeful entertainers — fighter or otherwise — usually dream of one day selling out MSG and entertaining a capacity audience in “The Big Apple.” Located in Midtown Manhattan, and first opened at its current location in February 1968, MSG has played home to many of combat sports’ greatest bouts and most memorable moments, including Rocky Marcino vs. Joe Louis, two of the three bouts between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and, more recently, Andy Ruiz Jr.’s heavyweight championship upset over the then-unbeaten Anthony Joshua.
MSG consistently hosts many combat sports events year after year, with boxing cards (both big and small), GLORY Kickboxing, professional wrestling, amateur wrestling and, of course, MMA. And with every event comes prideful and passionate fans that bring deafening noise, plenty of cheers, chants and jeers, and love for the fight game. MSG may truly live up to its nickname of “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
And while NYC is a highly coveted market in combat, there was once upon a time where MMA could not get in. After its tri-state neighbor, Connecticut, legalized MMA in 2013, New York became the sole state in the union to not have legalized the sport. Most of the details boil down to a fight of another nature — former UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta vs. the Culinary Workers Union (long story short: the casinos owned by the Fertittas were non-union). But in 2016, the bill to legalize MMA was finally signed and MSG finally got the chance to host an event when UFC 205 came later that year.
UFC 205 featured a stacked card from top-to-bottom, with fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Frankie Edgar, Jeremy Stephens and Jim Miller competing on just the PRELIMINARY card. The main card, meanwhile, saw three title fights — including a Joanna Jedrzejczyk strawweight title defense, a classic welterweight title fight between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson and, of course, Conor McGregor becoming the first champ-champ in UFC history.
The UFC would return each November thus far, presenting UFC 217 and UFC 230 in “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” UFC 217 would feature three title changes — including Georges St Pierre’s return and middleweight title win, and Rose Namajunas’ shocker over Jedrzejczyk. And while UFC 230 did not have as much hype, especially with its last-minute heavyweight title fight, the card still proved to be praiseworthy for all its action.
Not to be outdone, Bellator has also made two stops at MSG, first with its second-ever pay-per-view event — Bellator NYC — a card that featured quite the oddities from Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko’s double knockdown en route to Mitrione spoiling Emelianenko’s debut, the spoiled pro debut of Aaron Pico and a main event of Wanderlei Silva vs. Chael Sonnen. The event, along with its “Bellator 180” undercard saw a total of three title fights, including Brent Primus winning the Bellator lightweight title from Michael Chandler and Ryan Bader, in his Bellator debut, defeating Phil Davis for the light heavyweight title. Earlier this month, Bellator returned to MSG for Bellator 222, which featured Chael Sonnen’s retirement, Rory MacDonald retaining the welterweight title and Kyoji Horiguchi becoming a two-promotion bantamweight champion.
For some reason, whenever a fight card comes to Madison Square Garden, magic seems to be around the corner.