Despite Hard Hits, UFC’s Return to TD Garden Called a ‘Huge Success’

Hesitant at first about coming back to Massachusetts, the league's president said it won't be their last visit.

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

First he hit him on the left side of the head—twice in the same spot. Then, with his left hand, he delivered an uppercut to his jaw. It was enough to knock his opponent to the ground, but not unconscious, as he had hoped, as the crowd roared around them.

Michael McDonald said he wasn’t going to “let an Englishman,” Brad Pickett, beat him in the same place that the American Revolution started, here in Boston. No way, he said.

And he didn’t.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship bout was a violent display of aggression to say the least, just one of more than a dozen on Saturday, as Pickett and McDonald competed for a Bantamweight win at the TD Garden. It was the first time the league returned to the city in three years, despite a battle with elected officials and local anti-violence advocacy groups who tried to stop the event from happening due to its aggressive nature.

Although he lost in the second round, and McDonald pummeled his face to the point where it swelled in spots, something happened immediately following the battle in the octagon; it happened several times, in fact. Pickett and McDonald, sworn enemies that went fist-to-fist in an attempt to improve their fighting record, bashing one another’s faces with nearly-bare hands in the confined, fenced off ring, hugged. They even kissed, on the cheek, in a manner of showmanship that the sport’s opponents have said is lost and void, claiming it only promotes extreme violence and sets a bad standard for children that watch it.

“It’s nowhere near as bad as other sports, like the WWE even, where they hit each other with chairs and club each other. It’s not guys with [steroid] rage…there is technique to it. They respect each other as fighters. We have no problem bringing our son here,” said Trudy McGuire, who brought her 8-year-old son to the match.

For hours Saturday at TD Garden more than 12,000 fans, and families like McGuire’s, showed support for fighters, after a failed attempt by City Council President Steve Murphy to try and ban anyone under 18 from attending.

Murphy, with the backing of several groups such as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Boston NOW, fought for weeks to try and create the ban in time for Saturday’s card and main event, but the push didn’t carry enough momentum to come to life. The move was also supported by union workers, and stemmed from an ongoing feud between the co-owners of the UFC, and a group known as UNITE HERE, based in Las Vegas.

Those against the sport being open to young viewers in Boston said during a hearing about the ban last week that there is “a significant body of research” that demonstrates that children’s exposure to entertainment violence is a risk factor developmentally. “Allowing young children to attend cage-fighting events promotes the false notion that it is appropriate entertainment for them,” said members of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in a statement supporting Murphy’s proposal.

Regardless of the warnings, however, many families like the McGuire’s still showed up to cheer on the athletes, and applauded the actions of fighters like Pickett and McDonald as the they hugged and congratulated each other after each bout.

“It’s a very positive environment. Very positive,” said Bobby Barnes, who attended the event with his 12-year-old son, Luke. “It’s absolutely ridiculous that they tried to ban kids from coming. You might as well ban hockey, or boxing. We would have been upset if they had have done that.”

McGuire agreed, adding that if protesters had showed up, or watched the fight, they would have had a slight change of heart. “We would rather [our son] come here than go to a violent movie,” she said.

UFC President Dana White said the success of the event, even after the “Union puppets [got] fired up,” made him rethink earlier statements that he wouldn’t return to Boston. “I think everyone involved loved this event, and we will come back here,” he said. “I love this city. Everything here was a huge success.”