UFC 303 reports a nearly $16M gate, its 4th-biggest despite 3 bouts with replacement fighters

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Conor McGregor’s broken toe couldn’t keep MMA fans away from T-Mobile Arena on Saturday for UFC 303, as the 30-year-old organization celebrated its fourth-highest gate.

With 18,881 in attendance, the total gate was announced at $15.9 million for an event that culminated a busy week for sports in Las Vegas, which also hosted International Fight Week and the NHL Draft at the Sphere.

Despite McGregor pulling out of his fight with Michael Chandler, UFC president Dana White still expected to break the gate record of $17.7 million set at UFC 205, which attracted 20,427 fans on Nov. 12, 2016 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Despite falling short, White remained pleased with the turnout.

“It’s been challenging, but fun,” White said of a chaotic card littered with replacement fighters. “What happens is that we have built up this trust level with our fan base that they know when they show up that we’re going to put on a good show.”

Which they did, with Alex Pereira delivering a second-round knockout kick over top-ranked challenger Jiri Prochazka to retain his light heavyweight championship in the main event.

It was one of three bouts that involved replacement fighters.

Dan Ige was getting a massage at home in Las Vegas and getting ready to watch UFC 303 when he took a call asking him to fill in and fight in the co-main event against Diego Lopes after Brian Ortega took ill.

Also, Jamahal Hill was supposed to face Khalil Rountree. But, Carlos Ulberg replaced Rountree. Then, a knee injury forced Hill out, which brought Anthony Smith to the card. Following that, Ulberg pulled out of the fight and led the UFC to sign Roman Dolidze to the card.

“The UFC takes flak because they’re at the absolute top and there’s people trying to pull them down in every single aspect of it,” Chandler said before taking his seat Octagonside. “But these guys know how to run a business.

“It’s International Fight Week and I have taken pictures with, shaken the hands (of) and met over 1,000 fans this weekend. And every single one of them is talking about the flights that they took, where they came from, the tickets that they bought, they all came here to watch me fight Conor.”

How big in stature was the card?

“It doesn’t matter — eight weeks, six weeks, four weeks, four hours,” said Ige, who lost a unanimous decision to Diego Lopes, losing 29-28 on all three cards. “I was like, ‘Man this is an opportunity to become a legend.’ This is the (story) I want to tell my grandkids … to show up on four hours’ notice on International Fight Week for one of the biggest cards of the year on the co-main event?”

The event featured a star-studded crowd that included Donald Trump Jr., Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby, New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Chicago Bears tight end Marcedes Lewis.

With UFC 303 falling short of the record, White boldly predicted the recently announced UFC event at the Sphere in September would eclipse all numbers.

“It will be the biggest gate of all time,” White said. “It won’t be the greatest UFC event, it will be the greatest sporting event of all time.”

Asked if he’d gotten any feedback from his team about the NHL Draft’s experience at the Sphere, White chuckled when mentioning the curving 270-degree screen that featured the draft board and team logos.

“That’s gonna be like kids playing with crayons with what we’re gonna do,” he said.


AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports

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