Dillon Giancola: The UFC, culturally relevant once again

I’ve always said that there’s no sporting event that quite compares to a big fight pay per view. Whether it’s boxing or UFC, no other sport can guarantee that the bars will be full, that people will cheer loudly throughout, and commotion will ensue, on the screen and in the place you’re watching the fight.

Sure, the Super Bowl seems like the exception, but most people just watch that game at their house or a friend’s, and the bar is a last resort. For boxing and mixed martial arts, going out is the first resort because nobody wants to pay an obscene amount of money for three hours of entertainment.

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I’m sure it was like this with boxing when I was growing up, but I’m not really sure. Nobody around me followed it too closely or ever talked about going to watch the fights. As I came into adulthood, the UFC was entering its peak, and it seemed there would be one big fight card worth watching every two or three months. Anderson Sylva and Georges St. Pierre were massive draws, and people would even get excited about watching Shogun Rua and Matt Hughes, of all people.

Boxing came back during this time as well, as every Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight became must-watch events for fight fans, even if the fights were always disappointing, and recently, the rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin (GGG) was one of the best big-time boxing matches I’ve ever watched, if not the best.

Over the last two years, the UFC has faded from being culturally relevant in a big way. But that changed when UFC 229 was announced, headlined by Conor McGregor returning to the octagon after two years to challenge undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC Lightweight Title.

Promoters and reporters were calling it the biggest UFC fight in history, which made sense on paper, but didn’t seem possible considering the lack of buzz surrounding the UFC over the past year.

It wasn’t the most exciting fight of the evening on Oct. 6, but watching Nurmagomedov destroy McGregor was extremely captivating on its own.

I always forget how much people love McGregor. I was one of the few people who watched the fight and cheered for Nurmagomedov, and I’ll admit I enjoyed watching McGregor get beat up. Cheering for the villain, as it were.

I’ve always admired McGregor’s confidence and his ability to sell a fight, but it rubs me the wrong way. Still, I thought he would put up a bigger fight, although many UFC analysts predicted a similar outcome.

But what happened afterward, with Nurmagomedov standing overtop McGregor, screaming, after he had just choked him out, then jumping into the crowd to attack McGregor’s teammate while Nurmagomedov’s friends jumped in and suckerpunched McGregor, was unlike anything I’ve seen in the sport and likely will see again. It was a black eye for the sport, yes, but it was also the best thing for it. The next fight involving one of these two guys is going to be a huge draw.

I found myself trying to defend the Russian in the hours after the fight. But that was foolish, and I wasn’t impressed when the events were unfolding. However, the fact that Nurmagomedov reacted this way, still mad at McGregor's comments pre-fight, wasn't that surprising, and I'm amazed it's never happened before.

At the end of the day, just having these events back in our lives, and resulting in weeks-long conversations, is a win for both hardcore and casual fight fans. Afterall, there’s nothing quite like a big fight pay per view.

Email Dillon Giancola at sports@ahnfsj.ca.

© 2018 Virden Empire-Advance

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