President Trump is returning to one of his past victories this weekend in his hometown of New York City.
In 1996, the late Arizona Senator John McCain happened upon his first UFC event on a videotape. That moment proved to be a seminal moment for the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion, as McCain led a successful campaign to have the sport and the UFC banned in as many states as possible.
"Ultimate fighting" fought back but as the sport entered the 21st century, it could not find a major venue to hold its marquee event. Then, Donald Trump intervened.
Trump allowed "UFC 30: Battle on the Boardwalk" at his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J. back on February 23, 2001, and today Trump is credited by UFC President Dana White as saving the events from UFC's darkest days. “I would never say anything negative about Donald Trump because he was there when other people weren’t,” Dana White told Hill.TV in an interview last October.
UFC is now a multi-billion dollar entity, sold back in 2016 to Hollywood powerhouse WME-IMG (now the Endeavor Group) for a whopping $4.6 billion by former owners and Las Vegas casino magnates Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta.
On Saturday night, the UFC is set to hold a massively anticipated matchup between two of its biggest rising stars -- Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal -- at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and President Donald Trump will be in attendance, the New York Times White House reported on Tuesday.
The relationship between Trump and the UFC goes well beyond their initial venue arrangements back in the early-to-mid aughts.
White stumped for the president back at the 2016 Republican National Convention and praised Trump for his role in saving the UFC when the promotion was essentially on life support.
“I am not a politician,” White told the raucous crowd in Cleveland that night. “I am a fight promotor. I wanted to show up and tell you about my friend, Donald Trump. The Donald Trump that I know.”
“In 2001, my partners and I bought the UFC, and it was basically considered a blood sport. State athletic commissions didn’t support us, arenas around the world refused to hold our events. Nobody took us seriously. Nobody. Except Donald Trump. Donald was the first guy to recognize the potential we saw in the UFC, and encouraged us to build our business,” White said.
“He hosted our first two events at his venue, he dealt with us personally, he got in the trenches with us, and he made a deal that worked for everyone. On top of that, he showed up to the fight and sat in the front row. Donald championed the UFC before it was popular before it grew into a successful business, and I will always be so grateful to him for standing with us in those early days,” the UFC president added.
For those more familiar with Trumps pre-political endeavors, it is no surprise to see that the president is a fight fan. Trump held and promoted numerous boxing events featuring then-heavyweight champion Mike Tyson at his Atlantic City casinos back in the 1980’s, and was even hired by the pugilist in July, 1988 to be his advisor.
Then, a few decades later, after helping the UFC get back on its feet and prior to his presidential aspirations, Trump got into the MMA game himself. He teamed up with fellow billionaire entrepreneur and businessman Mark Cuban in 2008 and launched Affliction Entertainment, which held two events before eventually folding after one of its main event fighters, Josh Barnett, tested positive for steroids. Barnett’s transgression caused a lack of a headline fight, and the promotion collapsed shortly thereafter in 2009.
But even in those two Affliction events alone, Trump, the man who helped the UFC to become the financial juggernaut it is today, actually beat out White on acquiring the then-best heavyweight mixed martial artist in the world, Fedor Emelianenko, a fighter the UFC had tried for years to sign in vain.
Trump’s Affliction MMA events featured the likes of heavy metal band Megadeth playing live in between fights, wild pyrotechnics, slick submissions and blistering knockouts.
Since those days in the late 2000’s, Trump and his sons have maintained an interest and a presence in MMA and at UFC events nationwide. At UFC on held in Newark, NJ on Aug. 3, interim welterweight champion and fervent Trump supporter Colby Covington was cheered on by Donald Jr. and Eric Trump, who were ringside as Covington defeated former divisional champion “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler.
Despite the demands of the office, President Trump will be at UFC 244 in New York City to watch one of the most highly anticipated fights of the year in support of a company he had faith in, a company that is now a household name and a money-earning machine.