President Donald Trump met with mixed reaction at UFC 244, protests outside arena

Lorenzo Reyes


Published 11: 32 PM EDT Nov 2, 2019

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump walked into Madison Square Garden and was received with a mix reaction.

Taking a break from an ongoing impeachment inquiry in Washington, Trump visited New York to take in UFC 244 on Saturday night, a mixed martial arts event headlined by the main event between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz, held in Madison Square Garden.

Many cheered his arrival and waved, pulling out their phones to take photos. Many, however, did boo his presence.

While the President walked in, the PA system in the stadium loudly cranked out rock and roll music, drowning out much of the crowd’s reaction. Trump smiled and waved at the crowd and took his seat on the floor right by the octagon, the ring where the fights take place.

According to the White House pool report, Trump sat with House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Mark Meadows, Rep. Peter King, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.

Trump became the first sitting president to ever attend a mixed martial arts event. He walked out onto the floor at 9: 52 p.m. ET.

His attendance comes just days after Trump indicated that he was transferring his official residence from New York City to Palm Beach, Florida, at his Mar-a-Lago Club. On Friday, Trump posted a four-tweet thread in which he said he loved the city, but said that it “can never be great again under the current leadership” of Governor Andrew Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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There is a break in the impeachment proceedings after the House of Representatives adopted rules for how the Democrats will conduct the public phase of the investigation with a 232-196 vote that was almost entirely along party lines.

Trump’s reaction from the crowd was certainly more favorable than the one he received Sunday in Washington when he was introduced during Game 5 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals. The crowd in Nationals Park pelted him with thundering boos and chants of “lock him up,” a reference to the motto he used against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during 2016.

UFC is likely a much friendlier environment for Trump.

“Shoutout to that boy, Donald Trump,” heavyweight Derrick Lewis told UFC’s Joe Rogan in his post-match interview after he defeated Blagoy Ivanov. “I know everything ain’t going good in the White House, but (expletive), he gotta turn that (expletive) around in 2020.”

Lewis wasn’t the only fighter to do so. One of the headliners in Saturday’s main event publicly expressed his support for Trump just two days ago.

“I think real recognize real,” Masvidal said Thursday at the media day for UFC 244. “No matter what your views are on Trump as a president, the guy’s a bad (expletive), man. The money that he’s made, the obstacles that he’s conquered. He’s a bad (expletive) in his own way. No matter what your political views are.”

Outside of Madison Square Garden, there was a heightened police presence, with NYPD patrol stationed every half-block surrounding the arena. A stretch of steel barricades encased the arena. Helicopters circled overhead. At entrances, authorities of the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Secret Service were identified by patches on their jackets and vests, helping screen attendees and other personnel.

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Outside the stadium, a crowd of about 100 protesters gathered to demonstrate on the corner of 31st Street and 8th Avenue. One group held up a series of white poster boards. Each one had its own thick, black letter. Together, they spelled “#OUTNOW!” One protester shouted into a megaphone, “Danger, danger, there’s a fascist in the White House.” Later, they resorted to a different call: “Trump out now.” Other protesters held orange signs that said “Trump/Pence ¡FUERA YA!”, Spanish for “out now.” Some others held up a different sign: “HEADLOCK HIM UP.”

The protesters assembled from two groups, Refuse Facism and Rise and Resist.

The presidential motorcade sped past an 8th Avenue completely blocked off from regular traffic at around 8: 55 p.m., well within sight of the protesters. As the cars rolled south, the crowd jeered.

It wasn’t only protesters, however, who greeted Trump at the Garden. A smaller group of supporters, many wearing red hats with Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again” also gathered.

Trump has long been connected to UFC president Dana White, who has often publicly supported Trump and his presidential campaigns. On Feb. 23, 2001, Trump hosted “UFC 30: Battle at the Boardwalk” at a hotel he used to own, the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J. That came at a time when UFC was still a burgeoning sports franchise. White has credited Trump for helping to elevate the franchise to what it is today, for Trump’s willingness to host events at a time when White said there was a “stigma” attached to the sport.

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“I would never say anything negative of Donald Trump,” White told The Hill in an interview in October 2018. “Because he was there when other people weren’t and even after that, even after when anything good would happen in my career, Donald Trump was the first one to pick up the phone and call.”

White eventually took the podium at the 2016 Republic National Convention, at the request of Trump, and delivered a speech.

“Donald championed the UFC before it was popular, before it grew into a successful business and I will always be grateful — so grateful to him for standing with us in those early days,” White said at the convention in 2016. “So tonight, I stand with Donald Trump.”

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

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