NEW YORK – A van carrying UFC fighters and others was surrounded and attacked by protestors Friday evening, but luckily everyone was able to get out of the situation unscathed, according to manager Brian Butler of SuckerPunch Entertainment.
During the incident on Friday, former UFC light heavyweight champion Jamahal Hill shared a live video on Instagram from inside the van, which became surrounded by pro-Palestinian protestors when they approached the intersection of W 41st St. and 7th Ave. Along with Hill and his manager Butler in the van, were UFC Hall of Famer Robbie Lawler, former bantamweight title challenger Cory Sandhagen, and UFC staff and security.
Butler says the group was leaving a UFC fan event at a nearby nightclub when they approached the intersection, and things escalated to a near-ugly situation.
“We saw the parade of people coming and we saw all these flags, then we were like, ‘Oh, man. We’re about to get stuck in this,'” Butler told MMA Junkie. “People were saying, ‘Go, step on the gas. Step on the gas.’ People started trickling over because we were at the very front. I think they were curious because it was a big Sprinter van, so they started coming up and putting their signs and stuff up on the window. Then they got a look inside and they could see it was UFC security in there, and they were like, ‘Oh, UFC people.’ Then they started saying stuff like, you know, just mob mentality stuff. Nothing other than that sheer energy that was going on. It was like, ‘UFC people are bitches,’ UFC people are this and that.
“Then that kind of infuriated Jamahal. Jamahal started seeing red, so it was an issue trying to get him calmed down. But it started escalating pretty quickly. … It went from zero to having the whole vehicle surrounded and banging on it. The windows started breaking, and then Jamahal said he saw someone pull out a knife and they slashed all our tires. It could have been a very bad situation, but it ended well. I do have to say that the UFC security and staff was on point. The people that were on the bus with us were calling for backup.”
According to Butler, the UFC security team along with the NYPD were able to clear a path for the van to get across the congested intersection. From there, everyone then had to exit the van and walk because the tires were slashed. Everyone in the van made it out of the situation safely, Butler said.
While the situation was unfolding inside the vehicle, Butler observed a sharp contrast in emotions between Lawler and Hill.
“Robbie had probably one of the most Robbie Lawler moments,” Butler said. “… He was just saying, ‘Conserve your energy. If these doors open, we’re going to need every ounce of it.’ It was very Robbie, because he was just sitting there still. Meanwhile, on the other end of the van, Jamahal is getting very irritated with people. Once Jamahal calmed down, everything was good.”
Butler went on to explain that when Hill went live on Instagram, the worst part of the incident had already occurred. He also stated that they never tried to run anyone over in the van, contrary to what some were saying online. Ultimately, Butler did his best to keep Hill calm throughout the moment in order to prevent things from escalating further.
“It was a very crazy situation. I think it was handled by everybody on the buses as well as could be done.”