Politics can be a bruising business. But President Donald Trump took a break from battling the Democrats' impeachment inquiry to watch another bloodsport Sunday, drawing a mixed response at a UFC event at a raucous Madison Square Garden.
Both loud boos and cheers could be heard as Trump, joined by his adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, as well as several congressional Republicans, took their seats ahead of the pay-per-view mixed martial arts match. The greeting, though split, was warmer than the reception Trump received earlier in the week, when he was roundly booed and faced a "Lock him up!" chant at a World Series game he attended in Washington.
Though a bloody mixed martial arts fight may be an unusual venue for a president, Trump has longstanding ties to the UFC and sat just a few rows from the cage, where fighters took turns bloodying each other with a variety of kicks and punches.
Trump hugged boxing legend Roberto Duran as they posed for a picture and sat in the same row as UFC President Dana White. Trump is tight with White, a relationship that dates to UFC's formative years before its rise into a billion dollar promotion. New Jersey was one of the first states that embraced UFC, and White credits cards at the Trump Taj Mahal for helping the company grow into a heavyweight in the sports world. White spoke at Trump's request at the Republican National Convention and they are occasional dining partners.
Trump Jr. tweeted White told the family, "it was the most electrifying entrance he seen in 25 years of doing this." The Trump brothers sat cageside in August in New Jersey in support of Trump fan Colby Covington.
Taking a break from an impeachment inquiry, Trump could only hope the first fight of the pay-per-view wasn't a sign of things to come — a devastating KO from the left.
He rose from his seat like the rest of the fans when Kevin Lee knocked out Gregor Gillespie with a left leg kick to the head. Gillespie bounced off the cage and lay motionless, out cold on the mat for a minute or so. Trump didn't react as he watched the replay and applauded just like a regular fight fan when Gillespie finally came around and got to his corner. He did not appear to sing along to Darren Till's "Sweet Caroline" walkout music.
Derrick Lewis won his heavyweight bout and gave Trump a shoutout from inside the cage, saying "I know everything ain't going so good in the White House. You gotta turn that s*** around in 2020."
Protesters outside MSG chanted "Danger, danger, there's a Fascist in the White House," over a bullhorn and held signs that read "Trump/Pence Out Now!" Once the fights started, there were no noticeable signs or sustained calls of support or protest for Trump. The only jabs were delivered inside the fenced-in, four-foot octagon came from the fighters.
Lewis was the only winner who mentioned Trump, and the crowd of nearly 20,000 seemed largely uninterested in him.