‘This place is booming’: UFC thrilled with Miami as a host city after memorable return to South Florida

In 2005, UFC welterweight great Matt Hughes successfully defended his title against Sean Sherk in Miami.

In hindsight, what should have been a successful card that featured five current and future UFC champions, UFC 42 performed poorly. The event only garnered 35,000 pay-per-view buys and the attendance was less than 7,000 fans at American Airlines Arena for a gate of less than $500,000.

It was a sign that the UFC just may not work in South Florida. But times have changed.

Nearly 18 years later, the UFC drew a crowd of more than 19,000 for the highest-grossing event in that same arena’s history, now named the Kaseya Center, for $11.9 million according to UFC president Dana White. On a busy sports weekend in the middle of April across the country, Downtown Miami was in the heart of it all.

It is no surprise White and the UFC avoided Miami from their last experiment here. But White admitted it was too long a period to keep South Florida away from a marquee card and to push it forward, he believes now that Miami is here to stay as a UFC host.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” White said in his post-fight press conference. “Unbelievable when you think that last time we came here, we did a gate of $446,000 and now we just beat Madison Square Garden.”

White said UFC 287 outperformed New York City’s last event — which featured the same headliners, Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira — by about $400,000.

And while there were notables galore in attendance at Kaseya Center on April 8 — former President Donald Trump along with NFL stars Joe Burrow and Odell Beckham Jr., among them — there’s an added incentive for UFC to come back to Miami.

South Florida, after all, is a training hotspot for some of the best UFC fighters in the world. Kill Cliff FC in Deerfield Beach and American Top Team in Coconut Creek are the proud owners of a lengthy UFC roster.

Between the two gyms, fighters like Kamaru Usman, Tyron Woodley, Amanda Nunes, Dustin Poirier and Robbie Lawler all won title belts while training in South Florida.

What’s more, MMA Masters, home of former UFC Welterweight champion Colby Covington, hosts several UFC fighters throughout the year. And Goat Shed Academy, located in the heart of Miami, has developed into one of the trendier gyms, racking in millions of pageviews on social media with its sparring videos.

This only scratches the surface of how heavily linked the UFC and other professional organizations are with South Florida, and White is well aware.

“I don’t think I need to tell anybody that we need to come back to Miami,” White said. “Ten years ago, L.A. was the greatest city in the world. I look at Miami now like L.A. was. This place is booming.”

UFC 287 linked Miami to one of the greatest nights in UFC history as well. Adesanya knocked out Pereira after losing to him twice in kickboxing and then once in MMA to reclaim the middleweight title.

And the Miami faithful finally had the chance to witness their homegrown star, Jorge Masvidal, fight in a loss to Gilbert Burns. Masvidal announced his retirement immediately after the fight, ending his career of more than 50 fights in the same place it began. But it meant that much more to him to make that announcement in South Florida.

Masvidal, in fact, was one of the few in attendance at that UFC 42 event and he said it fueled him to keep fighting.

“UFC came here 20 years ago and it inspired me to chase this dream,” Masvidal said. “Hopefully, I inspired somebody in here to go fight for theirs … no matter what it is.”

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to honor Masvidal’s legacy — and follow up the UFC’s sixth-highest-grossing event of all time — would be to return here soon.

After all, six fighters on last month’s card train in South Florida. And in March, seven South Florida fighters fought on the UFC 285 card in Las Vegas.

Just like White said, “This place is booming.”

Jared Parker is an American broadcast media student with an area of concentration in global and sociocultural studies. Parker hopes to work in sports journalism in the future. Parker has a special connection to amateur MMA and hopes to be known as someone who gave amateur fighters a platform before anyone else.