From top-level UFC and Bellator events to shows at the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden, New York has been a major market for MMA since 2016. Now, MSG and Barclays Center could welcome back combat sports fans for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Gradual Return to Normalcy
No major combat sports or pro wrestling promotions have announced plans to return to New York as of this writing. However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the decision to allow fans at events earlier this month. This decision applies to “any large stadium hosting hockey, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, music, shows or performances” for example.
Sports Illustrated noted the first event in New York with fans was a Buffalo Bills game on Jan. 16th. 7,000 fans attended and Cuomo considers this latest development an extension of that success. Venues with a capacity of 10,000 began operating at 10 percent capacity on Feb. 23.
Hockey fans returned on Feb. 26th as the New York Rangers faced the Boston Bruins. NBA fans returned on Feb. 23 to see the Golden State Warriors beat The Knicks. A joint statement from the Knicks, Rangers, and MSG said:
“We want to thank Governor Cuomo for allowing us to move forward with welcoming fans back to MSG. We intend to host roughly 2,000 fans at every game, beginning with the February 23 Knicks game against the Warriors and the February 26 Rangers game against the Bruins. Health and safety remain our top priority, and we will be working closely with state and health officials to implement the strongest operating protocols. We know our fans are anxious to return and we can’t wait to see them at The Garden once again.”
Status of the UFC
UFC may not be the first MMA promotion to return to MSG. UFC President Dana White has said multiple times he wants full-capacity crowds for U.S. events outside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Combat sports fans, in general, may not be far behind other fans though.
MSG had been the mecca for boxing and pro wrestling for decades prior to MMA entering the picture. New York is widely considered by pro wrestling fans to be WWE territory as it’s based in nearby Stamford, Conn.
Requirements and Approved Venues
Masks, temperature checks, and socially distanced seating are required for admission. Fans must also register a negative PCR rapid test within 72 hours of an event. Venues with a capacity of over 10,000 may submit a reopening plan for approval by New York’s health department. See a list of approved venues here.
MSG had previously hosted annual UFC events since UFC 205 in November 2016. “The World’s Most Famous Arena” also hosted Bellator NYC/Bellator 180 in 2017 and Bellator 222: McDonald vs. Gracie in 2019. The Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden has hosted the World Series of Fighting/Professional Fighter League since WSOF 34 in December 2016.
Cuomo explained the decision by saying, “While we’re doing vaccines and while we’re controlling the spread of COVID, we also have to at the same time get this economy open, intelligently and in a balanced way,” Cuomo said. “The Buffalo Bills demonstration program which I mentioned before was an unparalleled success.”