UFC 205, the promotion's first effort on the hallowed grounds of Madison Square Garden in New York, is shaping up to be one of the biggest cards in UFC history.
After spending more than $2 million on lobbying efforts and untold thousands of hours, the UFC finally convinced the state to legalize and regulate MMA. The promotion is determined to make its first modern effort in the state count.
To that end, the UFC has stacked the event from top to bottom, featuring an assortment of high-profile fighters and three title bouts.
But the biggest fight, and the biggest name, is the one receiving top billing: Conor McGregor, who will try to become just the third two-division champion in UFC history when he faces Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title. He's the first man to attempt to hold two titles simultaneously since BJ Penn took a shot at Georges St-Pierre in 2009.
McGregor, the motor-mouthed Irishman blessed with fists of stone and a commitment to exciting fights, is unequivocally the biggest draw in the history of the UFC. It's not even that close. The only real competitor in terms of raw star power is Ronda Rousey, and based on Google search trends, that was just for a couple of weeks in 2015.
At this point, there's no limit to what McGregor can accomplish as a star and a draw.
In his last three headlining appearances, McGregor has sold 1.2 million, 1.6 million, and 1.65 million pay-per-views. At UFC 196 in March, he tied the record set by Brock Lesnar and Georges St-Pierre at UFC 100 back in 2009; McGregor broke it at UFC 202 with a rematch against Nate Diaz.
While Diaz was a fantastic verbal sparring partner and an even better matchup inside the Octagon, what's shocking about UFC 202's record-breaking box office performance is how little promotion the fight and the card received as a whole.
There was no world media tour of the sort that had preceded McGregor's featherweight title fight with Jose Aldo at UFC 194. The Irishman barely did any of the late-night talk shows he had frequented before the first matchup with Diaz or the Aldo bout. There weren't many advertisements.
A last-minute incident at the pre-fight press conference, complete with flying water bottles and energy drinks, helped to build awareness at the 11th hour. The card was entertaining, but not stacked with big names that might have driven interest in the event.
That speaks to the sheer magnitude of McGregor's drawing power.
If he could do all of that at an event that was barely promoted, what can he do in the United States' largest media market with a card stacked from top to bottom?
Even if McGregor doesn't resume the punishing media schedule he followed before UFC 194 or UFC 196, the carry-over effect from being in New York will expose him, and the event as a whole, to millions of potential viewers.
An epic press conference following the announcement of McGregor's placement on the card kicked things off, but that was just the beginning. The quality of the advertising has already surpassed anything the promotion tried to do for UFC 202, and it's a safe bet the UFC will saturate that enormous media market with billboards, TV and radio spots leading up to the event. (Warning: NSFW language)
There's also the novelty of the UFC's first event in New York, at Madison Square Garden. The UFC has historically done well in its forays into new major markets, and UFC 205 doesn't look to be an exception; the cheapest ticket on the resale market is currently selling for a cool $855, and the biggest gate performances in UFC history have always been accompanied by huge pay-per-view sales.
All of that business stuff detracts from the fact the card itself is outstanding on every level. This lineup is even better than UFC 200, which was already one of the most stacked cards in the promotion's history. Eight former or current champions dot the card.
Rashad Evans makes his middleweight debut against Tim Kennedy, Frankie Edgar takes on Jeremy Stephens, Miesha Tate opens the main card against Raquel Pennington, and Chris Weidman faces Yoel Romero.
Hardcore fans' darling Joanna Jedrzejczyk puts her strawweight strap on the line against Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Tyron Woodley makes the first defense of his new welterweight crown against Stephen Thompson. The undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov meets Michael Johnson in a fantastic lightweight scrap.
Whew. If that doesn't get your blood pumping, I don't know what will.
There's something for everyone on this card, and it's calculated to reach every type of person who could be interested. It has the big name at the top in McGregor, someone who can go on a late-night show or ESPN to reach mainstream fans. It has the depth of quality to pull in every hardcore fan. It's positioned in the big media market and will use both free and paid media to spread the word throughout New York.
Barring some unforeseen disaster in the next two weeks, UFC 205 will break the promotion's record for pay-per-view sales with ease. The gate record, set by UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto with 55,000 fans in attendance, probably won't fall, but it wouldn't be surprising if UFC 205 shattered the mark for a non-stadium show.
All of the pieces are in place, from the location to the star power to the promotion. UFC 205 is the crowning achievement of the UFC's McGregor Era, the peak of what's possible when all the stars align.
All pay-per-view estimates compiled from MMA Payout's blue book, which draws from Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Patrick Wyman is the Senior MMA Analyst for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Heavy Hands Podcast, your source for the finer points of face-punching. For the history enthusiasts out there, he also hosts The Fall of Rome Podcast on the end of the Roman Empire. He can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.