Issue 205

May 2024

From the Tokyo Dome to Madison Square Garden, iconic stadiums have witnessed MMA history by creating unforgettable atmospheres that elevate both fighters and fans. These venues are not just locations; they are hallowed grounds where legends are born and history is forged. The UFC has confirmed that the Las Vegas Sphere is booked for one of their events in September, most likely for Mexican Independence Day. It certainly raised some eyebrows, with many wondering how the UFC could pull off such an event. Those doubters, however, have made Dana White extra motivated to pull it off. 

At the UFC on ESPN 56 post-event press conference, he said: "This is going to be a f*cking masterpiece, man. I'm telling you right now and this is a fact, this will never be done again. You know what's going to happen when I do this event at the Sphere? Every other event that's going to go in there is going to go, 'Motherf*cker. What do we do now? How do we even come close to competing with this?' We are going to f*cking blow the doors off anything that ever goes into that arena again. I f*cking guarantee it."

With the event set to be a landmark moment in the UFC, we thought the timing to look back at some of the most iconic arenas in MMA history. Isaac Barnett combines his appreciation for these grand designs with a trip down memory lane to explain why these venues are so iconic that they’ve become integral to the sport's history.


The Mandalay Bay Events Center, now known as the Michelob Ultra Arena, is one of the premier entertainment venues in Las Vegas, Nevada. Opened in 1999, the arena boasts a seating capacity of approximately 12,000, making it one of the smaller venues. Funnily enough, it was supposed to be lesser, with a capacity of 8000. Still, in the end, the famous boxing promoter Bob Arum convinced the group responsible for the venue's construction to increase it. The arena has hosted 31 UFC events spanning as far back as UFC 33 until its last event in 2018, UFC Fight Night 88. During this period, it played host to some of the most iconic events in the history of MMA. 

UFC 100 (JULY 2009)

Celebrating the century mark of the UFC, this event was the biggest in the promotion’s history and was full of stars. UFC 100 featured two title fights: Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir for the heavyweight championship and Georges St-Pierre vs. Thiago Alves for the welterweight title. The event also set the stage for Dan Henderson's incredible KO of Michael Bisping, which remains one of the most talked-about KOs in the UFC.


The Tokyo Dome is a special place in the hearts of MMA fans and fighters' hearts. Known as The Big Egg for its distinctive shape, it was initially constructed as a baseball stadium. The Tokyo Dome is the home field for the Yomiuri Giants, Japan's most famous baseball team, where they've played their home games since the venue's opening in 1988. With a seating capacity of approximately 55,000, the Dome's state-of-the-art facilities make it an ideal venue for large-scale events. It was the stage for some of the most memorable and pivotal moments in the sport's early history, hosting K-1 events that became the showcase for MMA’s earliest iterations. At the height of MMA's popularity in Japan, the arena hosted some of Pride's most iconic events. 


Pride Fighting Championships, one of the most influential MMA organizations, held its first event at the Tokyo Dome, which marked the beginning of a new era in MMA. Pride One featured the legendary fight between Rickson Gracie and Nobuhiko Takada, setting the tone for future Pride events.


The Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals is often regarded as one of the most extraordinary MMA events ever presented. For the newer fans of MMA, who may be naive to the importance of this event, the tournament highlighted some of the best fighters in the world at that time, including Kazushi Sakuraba, Royce Gracie, and Mark Coleman. The event culminated with Mark Coleman winning the tournament, etching his name into the MMA history books. The atmosphere in the Tokyo Dome that night was so electric that the popcorn began to pop itself. 


The MGM Grand Garden Arena is one of the most well-known fight arenas, not just in MMA. The 17,000-capacity arena is situated inside the MGM Grand resort, located on the world-famous Las Vagas strip, being hand in hand with the iconic hotels and casinos within. It has a unique blend of modern design and functional elegance, featuring a sleek, aerodynamic roofline and cutting-edge acoustics that enhance the experience for every spectator. Its expansive, open-plan interior allows for unobstructed views from every seat. It’s where the audience got unobstructed views of Mike Tyson biting off a part of Evander Holyfield’s ear. And while boxing warmed up this arena, MMA set it on fire. 


UFC 52 was the event that saw Chuck Liddell challenge Randy Couture for the light heavyweight title following the debut season of TUF in a highly anticipated rematch. Liddell’s KO victory in the first round was a defining moment in his legacy in the UFC. The event was one of the highest-grossing in the UFC’s history and played a crucial role in the sport’s surge in popularity, claiming 280,000 PPV buys in the process. It was the perfect sequel to UFC 51, which featured what’s widely regarded as the most important fight in UFC history: Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar.


UFC 189 is remembered as the crowning moment of Conor McGregor's rise to stardom, primarily due to the electric atmosphere generated by the massive presence of Irish supporters. Initially set to fight José Aldo, McGregor faced Chad Mendes for the interim featherweight title when Aldo withdrew due to injury. His second-round knockout victory was pivotal in his career and earned him his first taste of UFC gold. The co-main event saw Robbie Lawler defend his welterweight title against Rory MacDonald in a brutal and highly acclaimed bout that was every fight fan’s dream. 


The T-Mobile Arena has quickly established itself as a premier venue for sports and entertainment since its opening in 2016. It has become a knockout venue for MMA fans, thanks to its striking modern design with a sleek, curvilinear exterior that mirrors the electrifying energy of the Las Vegas Strip. Inside, the arena's cutting-edge acoustics and optimal sightlines ensure every fan feels like they're in the front row, while the dynamic LED lighting and digital screens on the façade create an ever-changing visual spectacle that amps up the excitement before the first punch is even thrown. The arena has become synonymous with high-profile MMA events, particularly those organized by the UFC. The arena's modern infrastructure and strategic location in the fighting capital have made it the UFC's go-to venue for most PPV events. Here are some of the most memorable MMA events that have taken place at the T-Mobile Arena.


UFC 229 is perhaps the most notorious MMA event ever held at the T-Mobile Arena. The grudge match between Khabib Nurmagomedov and McGregor was sold as the biggest fight in UFC history and certainly lived up to the hype and some. Khabib earned a submission over McGregor, and the ensuing post-fight brawl made headlines worldwide, sending shockwaves across the MMA world. 


It is still fresh, but UFC 300 is up there with one of the greatest UFC cards we have ever witnessed. Max Holloway's viral KO of Justin Gaethje, Alex Pereira's devastating left hook on Jamahal Hill, and the stellar undercard. The card was stacked head to toe with brilliant fights, and every one of them made the event an extraordinary occasion for MMA's premier promotion.


Madison Square Garden has a legacy that dates back to its opening in 1968. 

Often dubbed The World's Most Famous Arena, MSG has been the site of numerous historic sporting events. Its rich history as the Mecca of Boxing has seen it host countless legendary bouts and unforgettable moments in combat sports. The venue's iconic status, coupled with its prime location in the heart of Manhattan, offers fans an unparalleled experience and an atmosphere charged with the energy of decades of fight history. The arena is the only one in the world with a concave ceiling made of perforated metal and sound-absorbent acoustic installation. This unique feature allows for sound to travel around the venue unlike anywhere else, allowing for some incredible atmospheres to be created inside the Garden. The legalization of professional MMA in New York in 2016 marked a landmark moment for the sport, allowing promoters like the UFC and Bellator to host events in the state. MSG quickly became the crown jewel of MMA in New York, offering fighters the chance to compete in a location littered with history. 


UFC 205 was a landmark event, as it marked the first time the UFC held an event at Madison Square Garden following the legalization of MMA in New York. The card was stacked with high-profile fights, including a triple championship header led by Eddie Alvarez and Conor McGregor. McGregor made history by defeating Alvarez via second-round TKO, becoming the first fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously. 


UFC 217 was another monumental event at MSG, featuring three title fights and the highly anticipated return of Georges St-Pierre against Bisping at middleweight. After a four-year hiatus, St-Pierre returned to the octagon, defeating Bisping via rear-naked choke in the third round to capture the middleweight title, becoming a two-division champion. The card also included T.J. Dillashaw reclaiming his bantamweight championship against his friend-turned-foe, Cody Garbrandt, and Rose Namajunas's incredible first-round KO of Joanna J?drzejczyk to claim the strawweight title.


The English fans have garnered a reputation for being some of the most electric supporters in the world, and the O2 Arena has played an enormous part in securing that title. With a capacity of 20,000, the arena has the second-highest seating capacity for indoor arenas in England. It boasts a unique dome design for its exterior, making it one of the most recognizable venues in the world. This feature means it is more than fit to host the biggest and best cards that MMA can offer England, and the English fans certainly bring an atmosphere that turns it on. 


On February 27, 2016, the O2 Arena witnessed an electrifying event: UFC Fight Night 84, featuring a middleweight clash between Anderson Silva, one of MMA's greats, and Bisping. In the dramatic bout, Bisping secured a unanimous decision victory after recovering from a heavy flying knee from The Spider in the third round, much to the delight of the home crowd. This fight is often remembered for its intensity and the controversy surrounding Silva’s near knockout of Bisping.


Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC returned to the O2 with a stacked fight night card and an abundance of up-and-coming talent. Nine of the twelve fights ended via a finish, Molly McCann's spinning elbow and Ilia Topuria's devastating overhand right being highlights of the night. Topuria has since claimed the featherweight championship, while Tom Aspinall claimed the interim heavyweight strap, further conveying how exceptional the talent on this card indeed was.


Opened in January 2021, the Etihad Arena is one of the largest indoor entertainment venues in the Middle East, seating a whopping 18,000 fans. The arena is designed with fan comfort and engagement in mind, providing clear sightlines, excellent acoustics, and interactive fan zones that elevate the overall event experience. It is part of Yas Bay Waterfront, a vibrant development project that has enhanced Yas Island as a top-tier destination for tourism and entertainment. Its proximity to major attractions like Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, and Yas Marina Circuit means this arena benefits from an ideal location that attracts visitors seeking an entertainment experience they can't get anywhere else. The arena was part of the UFC’s "Fight Island" series, a concept that emerged in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the sport to continue in a controlled and safe environment. UFC on ABC: Holloway vs. Kattar was the first event ever put on inside the venue, marking MMA's significance in the history of the arena. That said, there have been some huge fights in the venue. 


One of the most significant MMA events held at the Etihad Arena so far was UFC 257 in 2021. The event was headlined by the highly anticipated rematch between Dustin Poirier and McGregor. Poirier shocked the world with a second-round TKO victory over McGregor after using calf kicks on McGregor's heavy lead leg, allowing The Dimond to land heavy shots on the feet. This event was also significant because it was among the first to have fans return to live events. 


In October 2022, UFC 280 was headlined by a lightweight title fight between Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev. Makhachev’s submission victory was a massive milestone in his career and marked the beginning of the second Dagestani dynasty in the lightweight division. The card also included notable fighters such as Aljamain Sterling, Dillashaw, Petr Yan, and Sean O'Malley, providing fans an action-packed evening of top-tier MMA competition.


Here’s what you may be thinking, ‘the UFC Apex isn’t an arena,’ well, you are right, but it is undeniable in its significance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic was a difficult period for everyone. The entire world came to a standstill, but not the UFC. The UFC Apex hosted events that deserved to have thousands of fans in attendance, but because of the pandemic, it simply was impossible. Its cutting-edge broadcasting and production facilities ensure high-definition visuals and immersive experiences, making it a leader in sports broadcasting innovation. The versatile space of the UFC APEX allows for various event configurations, from small-scale fights to larger productions, demonstrating its adaptability. Located adjacent to the UFC Performance Institute, it offers fighters seamless access to world-class training facilities, enhancing their preparation and performance. 


During the pandemic’s height, the Apex treated us to a fight-of-the-year contender between Poirier and Dan Hooker. After a brutal five-round war, where both fighters had each other in serious trouble, Porier emerged as the victor via unanimous decision. It ended up being a bit of a spectacle, not because it was an incredible fight, but because of the eeriness of it. Because there were no fans, you could hear everything on the broadcast, every single shot landed, the fighters talking to each other. It was undoubtedly a strange yet brilliant viewing experience.


UFC 260 marked Francis “The Predator” Ngannou’s first victory in a UFC title bout. In a highly anticipated rematch, Stipe Miocic aimed to stop another Ngannou hype train again. However, rather than having the home-state advantage this time around, the octagon was still and quiet. Ngannou showed immense growth from the first fight, and he completely dominated the champion before KO’ing him stiff in the second round. His punch's crunching sound when it connected with Miocic was unavoidable, and it certainly begs the question of what it would have been like in a 20,000-capacity arena.


The Bell Centre stands as one of Canada's premier sports and entertainment venues. Known for its vibrant atmosphere, the venue draws millions of visitors annually, making it a landmark of sports and entertainment in Canada. It's home to the Montreal Canadiens, one of the most storied franchises in NHL history. With an enormous 21,000 seating capacity for hockey games, it is the largest arena in the NHL. It has played a crucial role in the growth of MMA in Canada, hosting some of the sport’s biggest names and showcasing the talents of fighters like GSP, Anderson Silva, and Mauricio Rua. Its capacity, acoustics, and facilities make it an ideal location for large-scale MMA events. 


UFC 83 marked the UFC's debut event in Canada, and it was fitting that the Bell Centre hosted this historic event. The headline fight featured the highly anticipated rematch between Matt Serra and Montreal's own GSP for the UFC Welterweight Championship. In the second round, GSP, one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, reclaimed his title in front of his hometown crowd by TKO. This event set the tone for future UFC events in Canada and remains a landmark in Canadian MMA history.


Following the success of UFC 83, the UFC returned to the Bell Centre with UFC 97. A middleweight title fight between Silva and Thales Leites headlined this event. Silva, well-known for his striking ability, defended his title via unanimous decision. The card also featured a bout between two legendary fighters, Liddell and "Shogun" Rua, with Rua winning by TKO. UFC 97 further solidified the Bell Centre's reputation as one of Canada's go-to venues for MMA events.


Over the years, the 3Arena has become a significant hub for Irish MMA, with the Irish fans making it their fortress. With a capacity of around 13,000, the venue boasts modern infrastructure and versatile design, which allows it to host a wide range of events. Located at North Wall Quay in the Dublin Docklands, the arena is easily accessible via public transport, and its waterfront location adds to its charm. Renowned for its superb acoustics, the 3Arena ensures that every cheer, chant, and announcement is heard clearly, amplifying the crowd's excitement. Providing the stage for an electric atmosphere, the Irish fans certainly make it well known when one of their own is in the cage. The arena is special in Irish MMA, with many iconic moments inside the now-infamous venue. Some of these include:


One of the most memorable MMA events at the 3Arena was UFC Fight Night 46, headlined by The Notorious One. The event marked McGregor's return to Dublin after fighting there plenty of times in his early career, and he faced Brazilian fighter Diego Brandao. The atmosphere was electric as McGregor, known for his charismatic personality and incredible fighting ability, delivered a spectacular first-round TKO victory. This event was pivotal in solidifying McGregor's status as a rising star in the UFC and showcased the passionate support of Irish fans to the MMA world.


Bellator has also made its mark at the 3Arena. Bellator 217, the third event that the promotion held in Ireland, saw Irish fighter James Gallagher face off against Steven Graham in the main event. Gallagher was a rising star in Bellator and considered a protégé of McGregor. He drew many comparisons with the Irish superstar and secured a first-round submission victory over Graham, much to the home crowd's delight. The event featured several other Irish fighters, establishing the 3Arena as a vital venue for promoting local Irish talent.


The Las Vegas Sphere, with its cutting-edge design and state-of-the-art technology, is set to revolutionize the MMA experience. This futuristic venue offers unparalleled immersion, with its 16K LED screens wrapping around the interior to create a visual spectacle that brings fans closer to the action than ever before. The acoustics are designed to amplify the crowd's roar, ensuring every cheer and chant reverberates through the arena, adding to the electric atmosphere.

The Sphere provides a stage for fighters that magnifies their every move, turning each bout into a larger-than-life event. The venue's advanced lighting and sound systems enhance the drama of the entrances and the intensity of the fights, making every moment unforgettable.

Fans will appreciate the Sphere's comfort and convenience, with top-tier seating arrangements and amenities that elevate the viewing experience. 

With the ability to broadcast the event to the entire city via its external panels, the Sphere ensures that all of Las Vegas can join in the excitement, making it a truly communal experience. This feature will amplify the event's reach and cement Sphere's place as a revolutionary venue in the world of sports and entertainment.

The seamless integration of technology and entertainment ensures that the Sphere is more than just a venue—it's a destination that redefines what is possible in live sports events. 

As the UFC prepares to host its first event here, it's clear this is set to become a landmark in the world of MMA, offering an experience as thrilling as the fights themselves.