The UFC returned to Los Angeles with a bang on Saturday night as Luke Rockhold and British challenger Michael Bisping swapped crushing blows at the Forum in Inglewood.
Coming in as a strong (trash-talking) favorite to lead UFC 199’s main card, California-native Rockhold, 31, took on his 37-year-old rival from Manchester, England, to defend his middleweight title.
But while he came in as a last-minute underdog with only 17 days notice after Chris Weidman was injured, Bisping dominated the fight and knocked out Rockhold in the first round — much to the stunned amazement of everyone in the arena.
“Easiest fight of my life,” Bisping said, as he became the first British MMA fighter to win a UFC belt. “I’ve always been a fighter… This is the greatest day of my life.”
As for the man he defeated, Rockhold said in a post-match press conference: “He caught me, I didn’t see it happening.”
Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber were second on the card, fighting for the bantamweight title, with Cruz winning by unanimous decision to retain his belt.
The Staples Center downtown had been in the early running for UFC 199, after last hosting a card headlined by Ronda Rousey in February 2015, but the arena couldn’t commit firmly to the date given possible NBA and NHL playoff games involving the Clippers or Kings (neither of which ultimately made it to the finals).
As with any high-profile sporting event in Los Angeles, Hollywood had a strong turnout around the Octagon. Among the stars watching the bloody bouts were Kate Hudson, Mario Lopez, Brian Grazer, Charlie Hunnam, Laura Prepon and Gerard Butler.
Before the main card for the pay-per-view event began at 7 p.m. PT, the UFC honored Muhammad Ali with a special video tribute presented by host Joe Rogan and narrated by UFC president Dana White, after which the sold-out crowd of 15,500 began chanting Ali’s name.
The Forum is the same venue where Ali defeated Ken Norton in a heavyweight rematch in September 1973. The recently renovated arena also hosted an epic 21-show residency by another late icon, Prince, in 2011, during which he declared “Inglewood is mine!”
As the rest of the world mourned the loss of the boxing legend, his son-in-law, Kevin Casey, took to the Octagon in a fight of his own, less than 24 hours after the icon’s death.
Casey, who is married to Ali’s daughter Hana, fought Elvis Mutapcic on the undercard to a split draw.
“It’s a lot to go through before a fight,” Casey said after the fight. “Thank you, guys, for the support. God bless my family.”
“I knew he was going to be motivated. Muhammad Ali is the greatest of all time and that’s his father-in-law. I feel like Kevin had a little more to prove because he married into the family and he was going to want to make a statement,” Mutapcic said regarding his rival. Both fighters dedicated the bout to Ali.
Earlier in the day, Casey’s wife Hana, tweeted about the ordeal her family was going through.
“Our hearts are literally hurting,” she wrote. “But we are so happy daddy is free now.”
Ali died at 9:10 p.m. local time in an Arizona medical facility on Friday, surrounded by his family. The official cause of death was “septic shock due to unspecified natural causes,” said spokesman Bob Gunnell. He was 74.
Details of the long-awaited welterweight rematch between UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz were also revealed on Saturday. After much drama in recent months, the fighters will headline UFC 202 in Las Vegas on Aug. 20.
The 170-pound rematch was originally scheduled to headline UFC 200 on July 9, but the UFC pulled McGregor off the card after he refused to fly to Las Vegas to appear in a commercial shoot and press conference.
It was also announced that WWE wrestler and former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar will be coming out of retirement to fight at UFC 200.