What started as a spontaneous event dreamed up by UFC president Dana White turned out to be a night to remember Saturday in Las Vegas.
On a night usually reserved for boxing and Mexican champion Canelo Alvarez, the UFC took center stage as a packed house of 18,700 fans filled T-Mobile Arena for the first Noche UFC event.
Alvarez waited too long to schedule his fight on Mexican Independence weekend, and the UFC stepped in for a card highlighted by Alexa Grasso defending her flyweight title against Valentina Shevchenko in an epic fight that ended in a draw.
But the night didn’t just belong to Grasso. The fight card showcased the up-and-coming Mexican talents who appear poised to become the next wave of champions, such as Lupita Godinez (victory by submission over Elise Reed), Raúl Rojas (first-round knockout over Terrence Mitchell) and Daniel Zellhuber ( Victory by submission). Christo Giagos).
“It wasn’t planned or planned. “I changed the entire schedule for this event and put pressure on the organizers to create a great card for this event,” said White, who admitted the event came together at the last minute.
While Canelo Alvarez is still the biggest sports star in Mexico with no comparable rival in MMA, the UFC has shown that with great fights and successful events, such as weightlifting, it can create a festive atmosphere around a weekend that is the dedicated to Mexican talent. in, which attracted a large crowd to Toshiba Plaza.
Some of the events surrounding the fights were also successful. The photo sessions with fighters Brandon Moreno and Tatiana Suárez were extremely popular with fans, as was the Noche UFC merchandise, which sold out before the fight card began on Saturday night.
“It was incredible, the whole week was wonderful. They prioritized us, respected the date and honestly blew it away,” said Godinez, who was born in Mexico but lives in Canada. “That was a very special event.”
Mixed martial arts is a growing sport in the Mexican community on both sides of the border. While the new generation of fight fans has traditionally been more dedicated to boxing, they have crossed over to MMA to support homegrown talents like Grasso, Moreno and Yair Rodríguez.
During Saturday night’s main event, Grasso had the support of the majority of the 18,766 fans, who chanted “México, México,” “Alexa, Alexa,” and “Sí Se Puede” throughout the fight.
“It was such a great energy to hear all those fans. They send you so much energy and as a fighter you feel it,” said the 30-year-old Grasso. “I would like to thank all the fans. I know they invest a lot of time and money to support us and everything. I’m in the octagon listening to ‘Viva México’, it fills me with such energy.”
This isn’t the first time the UFC has highlighted the sport of boxing. In 2019, Canelo had to wait almost two hours to start his fight with Sergey Kovalev as the UFC fight between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz had not yet finished. The MGM Grand Garden Arena even showed the UFC fight on its big screens during the wait, angering hardcore boxing fans and the Mexican champion.
Canelo was unable to set the September 16 date as the Mexican champion was between promoters and negotiating a fight with Jermell Charlo. After choosing Premier Boxing Champions as promoter, an attempt was made to schedule the Charlo fight for Mexican Independence weekend, but the UFC had already beaten him. He was also blocked by an Alejandro Fernández concert at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Noche UFC was a way for the UFC to right a previous mistake. White admitted that he couldn’t schedule a bigger card at the start of the year when the UFC had three Mexican champions at once: Grasso, Moreno and Rodríguez. In the end, Moreno and Rodríguez lost their belts, but White soldiered on and scheduled Mexican Independence Weekend with Grasso as the headliner.
With the emerging talent showcased at Noche UFC and the new MMA gym and training complex being built in Mexico City, the talent coming from south of the border will only continue to grow.
“It would be really great to start this tradition in Las Vegas or have an event in Mexico, it would be wild,” Grasso said. “In an ideal world, I would like to continue doing this.”