NEW YORK (AP) - Conor McGregor looked he may have strolled straight off a New York fashion show catwalk in his white Gucci mink coat as he raised a steel chair high over his head and took aim on Eddie Alvarez’s skull.
UFC President Dana White interjected and snatched the top of the chair before McGregor clocked his UFC 205 main event foe. McGregor could only smirk as he asked a frothing crowd at Madison Square Garden how much a chair shot would cost him in a fine.
McGregor was once docked $150,000 for tossing a water bottle at a press conference. He could keep the cash this time - McGregor had his eyes and hands on Alvarez’s lightweight championship belt. McGregor was tardy to Thursday’s press conference - hey, New York only waited more than two decades for a UFC debut, so what’s 15 more minutes - and Alvarez had stormed off waiting for the challenger to show up. McGregor arrived quite fashionably late, skipped across the stage, and promptly swiped the belt Alvarez had left behind at the podium.
“This is what confidence looks like,” McGregor said as thousands of fans erupted in cheers.
This is what UFC in NYC looks like at MSG.
Banished to off, off, off Broadway for years by the state, Ultimate Fighting Championship is stoked for its legalized return and loaded UFC 205 card with three title fights and some of its biggest stars for Saturday night’s pay-per-view show.
McGregor, the Irish fighter with the brash public persona that made him one of UFC’s top draws, could have sold out the Garden on the strength of his name alone on the marquee. McGregor, also the UFC featherweight champion, and UFC seem poised to smash the arena’s gate record set in a 1999 boxing match between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield. The bout drew $13.5 million and more than 21,000 fans stuffed the Garden.
“I rarely look around and take it in because we’re going 100 mph,” White said, “but you better believe I will on Saturday.”
UFC offered a sneak preview of the insanity ahead when McGregor, Alvarez, UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley, UFC women’s strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk and other fighters joined White on the stage.
New York fans lined up outside MSG more than three hours before they were allowed inside for the public press conference. Fox Sports 1 taped an episode of a sports debate show outside the arena to keep fans occupied. The bars and restaurants in the immediate area around MSG plastered with ads to come watch, drink and party on Saturday night were as ubiquitous as the Duane Reades on every corner.
“This place is going to be a zoo on Saturday,” one lunchtime fan at Walter’s told a bartender.
The Guinness might be flowing all night in McGregor’s honor.
The “Notorious” Irishman remained backstage once White kicked off the press conference. Alvarez, making his first title defense since he smoked Rafael Dos Anjos for the belt in July, grew impatient waiting. Fighting out of Philly, Alvarez taunted the New York crowd that about booed him off the stage. Alvarez barked, “Where’s my opponent? Where’s he at?”
“When he comes, you give me a call,” Alvarez said.
He dropped the mic and walked off the stage.
McGregor - who sank a basket on the MSG court a day earlier - skipped out in delight in an outfit straight out of central casting of the old HBO show “Hookers at the Point.” The predominantly young, white and male crowd freaked out for the biggest late entrance at the arena since Willis Reed limped through the tunnel in the 1970 NBA finals.
“I operate on my own time, and I’m running early on my time,” McGregor said.
The faceoff melded the title-fight gravitas of the 1971 Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali bout at the Garden with the steel-chair silliness of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff in the first WrestleMania.
“This is not like any other fight,” White said. “This is a massive enormous show.”
The promotion wasted no time in announcing it would return for UFC 209 on Feb. 11 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. No fights were announced.
UFC morphed into a global phenomenon, become a staple on network television and ran PPV cards that hit 1 million buys during the ban. New York had been the lone state running against the trend of holding regulated MMA cards and made New Jersey its marquee fight home on the East.
State lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed in April to end the two-decade old ban following years of failed efforts by MMA supporters. The law authorizing the sport took effect in September. Cuomo concluded the move would boost the economy by luring bouts to the nation’s largest city as well as upstate venues, with one estimate that MMA could generate $137 million in annual economic activity.
The revenue flow zealously starts on Saturday night.
The chairs will be filled with fans and not in the hands of a championship challenger.
UFC wants to prove to New York it was worth the wait.
“Finally we’re here,” White shouted. “The biggest, baddest fight card in UFC history!”
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