Over the course of a few hours Saturday night, the fan base of the Ultimate Fighting Championship showed they’re as much a part of the action as the finely tuned athletes strutting their stuff in the octagon. Packing the Mandalay Bay Events Center for UFC 175, the crowd—many of whom spent the day at the UFC Fan Expo—made its presence felt early, erupting as bantamweight fan-favorite Urijah Faber walked out to Tupac Shakur’s “California Love” during the prelims.
Once the pay-per-view portion of the event kicked off, the fans threw their support behind middleweight Uriah Hall, who needed all the help he could get as he pushed through a broken toe and low groin shot to defeat Thiago Santos.
No fighter, however, got a bigger reaction than UFC’s most polarizing figure: “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. The women’s bantamweight champion, who usually receives her fair share of boos when she fights, got a thunderous ovation—and that was only her entrance. After taking a grand total of 16 seconds to knock out opponent Alexis Davis, it seemed as if the Events Center would collapse as the sea of fans went berserk.
Rousey, who admittedly enjoys being viewed as a “heel,” acknowledged the crowd’s involvement, but stopped short of saying that it impacted her performance. “It’s nice to have their support,” Rousey said of the fans. “But if you allow the cheers to make you feel good then you also allow the boos to make you feel bad.”
While Rousey clearly had the crowd on her side this night, the fans were split when it came time for the main event battle between middleweight champion Chris Weidman and challenger Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. Despite the patriotic environment of Fourth of July weekend, the Brazilian-born Machida received as much support—if not more so—than Weidman, a New York native.
The back and forth battle between the crowd was mirrored by that of the fighters, who clashed for the full five rounds. In the end, Weidman earned the victory by unanimous decision—the three judges scored it 49-45, 48-47 and 49-46—and his fans exploded with joy. Though disappointed, Machida’s supporters didn’t boo the decision, instead choosing show their appreciation for two men who gave it their all.
On this night, you could certainly say the same for everyone outside the octagon, too.