Politics is often described as a rough and tumble business. But President Donald Trump is expected to witness an actual blood sport when he takes in a much-hyped mixed martial arts event on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
This will be Trump's second sporting event in the span of a week. On Sunday, he attended Game 5 of the World Series at Nationals Park in Washington, where he was met with boos and chants of "lock him up."
Trump's visit to New York comes just two days after announcing he and his family are switching their permanent residency from New York to Florida, a move that was met with cheers from some prominent Democrats in the state. Explaining his decision on Twitter, Trump said he lamented being "treated very badly by the political leaders" in New York.
Trump was born, raised, built his businesses and launched his political campaign in New York, and says he "hated" to have to make the decision to leave, but that "few have been treated worse" by the city and state elected officials.
He's switching his residence to Palm Beach, Fla., where he owns the Mar-a-Lago resort, a place he's dubbed the "winter White House." Trump has resisted calls to release his state or federal taxes, but by switching residences, he'd go from a city that taxes top earners a 3.876% tax rate and a state with a top rate of about 9%, to Florida, which has no state income tax.
Before that paperwork is finalized however, he's expected to spend much of the weekend in the Big Apple, starting with attending the UFC 244 tournament, headlined by Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal. The main event is for a new belt and "title" of BMF, an acronym for "Baddest Motherf*****."
According to TMZ Sports, the belt cost $50,000 to make and other notables expected to attend include wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Trump's connection to mixed martial arts
While an MMA match may strike some as an unusual place for a commander-in-chief to spend a Saturday night, NPR's Scott Simon pointed out on Saturday's Weekend Edition that "the president is a fan and used to book MMA events at his casino in Atlantic City."
Trump's dealings with Ultimate Fighting Championship and its president, Dana White, go back to 2001 when UFC 30: Battle on the Boardwalk was held at Trump's Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
Back then, it was a huge score for the UFC to land a venue like Trump's. The sport had suffered for years, being banned in several states and disparaged as "human cockfighting" by the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.
In a 2018 interview with The Hill, White spoke about MMA's "stigma" and that "venues didn't even want us."
"I will never say anything negative about Donald Trump," White said at the time. "He was there when other people weren't."
White said he and Trump remain close, even though, for a time, Trump partnered with a rival mixed martial arts outfit called Affliction Entertainment in 2008. Affliction soon tapped out, but the UFC has scrapped its way to being a multibillion-dollar industry, selling for just over $4 billion in 2016.
"Any good thing that happened to me in my career, Donald Trump was the first to pick up the phone and call and say 'congratulations, I knew you guys were going to do this,'" White told The Hill.
A month prior to UFC's sale, White spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention, something he said he was "blown away and honored" to do.
"Donald championed the UFC before it was popular, before it grew into a successful business," White said before a crowd gathered in Cleveland.
"I will always be grateful, so grateful to him for standing with us in those early days. So tonight, I stand with Donald Trump."
Trump is expected to stay overnight at the Trump Tower in New York on Saturday. He is expected to depart on Sunday, and perhaps add to the traffic congestion that's already anticipated for the New York City Marathon.