President Donald Trump gets mixed reaction at UFC 244 in historic milestone for MMA

Dan WetzelColumnist
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives to watch a mixed martial arts fight in Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, U.S., November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives to watch a mixed martial arts fight in Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, U.S., November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s week began when he was lustily booed Sunday night at the World Series in Washington.

It ended here Saturday at the Ultimate Fighting Championship with a somewhat warmer reception — at least among the jeers there were audible cheers and waves from the Madison Square Garden crowd.

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Call it a split result in an already loud and amped environment that made deciphering what everyone thought difficult.

Trump entered the arena just before the 10 p.m. ET start of the UFC 244 pay-per-view. He sat cageside with Republican representatives, including Peter King of New York, and his two older sons, Eric and Donald Jr.

Trump made a point to wave to supporters and cheer back at those cheering him. One held a Trump 2020 flag. The music inside the arena was so loud — as it always is at UFC events — that communication is challenging for anyone.

Trump is a longtime friend and occasional business partner with UFC president Dana White. The two met in 2001, when Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, hosted UFC 30 and 31, the first two events after White and business partners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta purchased the company. White spoke at the 2016 Republic National Convention in support of Trump.

At Sunday’s Game 5 of the World Series, Trump was lustily booed and treated to chants of “Lock Him Up” from the baseball crowd at Nationals Park.

That was one crowd. This was a different one.

Trump’s rough-and-tumble style is certainly home here at the UFC, a sport that thrives on combat, conflict and trash talk. Language and antics that would never pass in other sports — or most of polite society — is welcome in the UFC.

After all, the main event of this very card features Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal fighting for the “Baddest Mother[expletive]” title belt.

The Masters it ain’t.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: President Donald Trump arrives to the UFC 244 event with Dana White at Madison Square Garden on November 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: President Donald Trump arrives to the UFC 244 event with Dana White at Madison Square Garden on November 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Trump shouldn’t have expected too much. This is New York, after all, Trump’s hometown where a comparatively unpopular president is particularly unpopular. A crowd of protesters (and a smaller group of supporters) gathered outside MSG to oppose his arrival.

The crowd reaction aside, Trump’s presence represented a historic milestone for mixed martial arts and another reminder that it continues to evolve from its fringe of society roots.

Trump is the first sitting (or former) president to attend a mixed martial arts fight. It was a momentous sign of mainstream acceptance for the sport that for years fought government regulators to even exist.

Presidents have been regulars at baseball, basketball, football, auto racing and various other athletic competitions through the generations. They’ve thrown out first pitches, sat courtside and congratulated the winners.

They’ve historically surrounded themselves with star athletes and championship teams, even routinely inviting title winners to the Rose Garden for photo-op ceremonies.

Never before had that extended to mixed martial arts, which wasn’t even sanctioned in the state of New York until 2016.

It is part of the meteoric rise of the sport, not just in popularity but clearly as a legitimate audience that a politician would like to reach. Trump may be unlikely to win the state of New York in next year’s election, but the card was beamed all over the country — and the world — via pay-per-view.

He’s certainly willing to align himself with the UFC when, formerly, most politicians ran the other way.

The audience consuming the sport it is not what the outdated stereotype would have you believe. While it remains popular with young, white men, it is not just a sport for young, white men.

The sport of MMA counts male and female fighters from every nook and cranny of Earth, representing every race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation. The UFC has long been a major proponent and sponsor of LGBT rights and more than any other major sport has meshed both male and female competitors to equal footing — it is not uncommon for women to headline cards.

The crowds, almost exclusively held in major cities, are likewise diverse, far more so than sports such as baseball. This also isn’t an exclusively working class crowd, fueled up for violence on cheap beer. Lower bowl tickets for UFC 244 were fetching over $600 a seat on the secondary market Saturday.

Some of them were happy to have him there. Some weren’t. Each side expressed their opinion.

Just a typical night in America.

More UFC 244 coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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