Tributes abounded in Las Vegas on Saturday, when the city played host to UFC 216 and UNLV’s home football game against San Diego State, the city’s first two major sporting events since the mass shooting that killed 58 people this week.
At UFC 216, held inside T-Mobile Arena, a moment of silence kicked off the pay-per-view portion of the event, and a handful of survivors and first responders were brought into the Octagon and recognized.
The UFC offered free tickets to first responders, including police, firemen and EMTs. According to UFC president Dana White, the promotion expected 1,500 first responders in attendance.
UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, who in the evening’s co-main event made his UFC record 11th straight title defense, told the crowd after his win, “Shout out to Las Vegas. Thank you so much to all the first responders.”
There also was an in-house video message from White, who encouraged Las Vegas residents to continue to live life to the fullest and said the city would heal together.
Asked at his postfight news conference why he decided to go ahead with UFC 216 in the wake of the shooting, White said: “It’s always time to have an event. You can’t have a coward determine how everybody else is gonna live there life. This is the world we live in, and you can’t just back down to this stuff.
“I’ve been saying all week: I’m really proud of this city and how everybody has reacted to this thing, from the first responders to the people that were there just helping other people.”
A series of tributes were made at Sam Boyd Stadium earlier in the day for the UNLV-San Diego State game.
Law enforcement, medical personnel and survivors entered the stadium along with members of both teams, and they also stood on the sidelines for the anthem. Red ribbons with the words “Las Vegas” were distributed to fans at the gates, and players from both teams wore decals on the backs of their helmets. In addition, the “Las Vegas” red ribbon was painted on the field at the 10-yard lines.
A moment of silence was held before the game, and first responders released 58 white balloons in memory of the deceased. First responders also did the coin toss.
Rebels head coach Tony Sanchez told ESPN his charge ahead of Saturday’s game was for his players to realize they can be a unifying force for their community. Sanchez said Sunday’s shooting was meant to divide and instill fear but that his players wouldn’t let that happen.
“I’m still emotional about it,” Penny said. “I played emotional tonight because it doesn’t matter where it happens. It’s still in America. For a man to take so many lives like that, it hurt.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.