UFC president Dana White has displayed extraordinary levels of determination, resourcefulness and tenacity to maintain a busy schedule of events throughout the coronavirus crisis. The rest of the sporting world has been shut down as authorities grapple with the pandemic, but UFC has aggressively pressed ahead with plans to stage fights.
It continued hosting events behind closed doors long after the NBA and NHL abandoned their seasons. White finally bowed down to pressure from broadcast partner ESPN and parent company Disney on April 9, when he announced that UFC 249 – scheduled to take place in Brooklyn on April 18 – would be called off.
However, it did not take long for UFC to return in a blaze of glory. On Sunday, May 10, some of the world’s greatest fighters gathered at Jacksonville Arena in Florida for a revamped UFC 249, and they put on a spectacular show. That marked the start of a scintillating triple-header of events, with UFC Fight Night: Smith vs. Teixeira taking place on Thursday night, and then UFC Fight Night 176 wrapping things up on Sunday.
Superstars Light Up Jacksonville Arena
MMA fans were treated to a number of exciting bouts. Justin Gaethje produced the best performance of his career to demolish Tony Ferguson in the main event at UFC 249. Henry Cejudo thrilled with a second-round knockout against Dominick Cruz. Francis Ngannou showed off his formidable punching power once again by quickly stopping Jairzinho Rozenstruick.
It was exciting and gruesome in equal measures, producing the sort of heady cocktail that millions of MMA fans find irresistible. There was no crowd noise, so viewers could hear every kick, punch and blood splatter. Anthony Smith, who lost the main event against Glover Teixeira on Thursday, was handed such a beating that he complained he was losing teeth.
Titans of the MMA scene lined up to take part in the action. Veteran Alistair Overeem returned to prominence with a second-round knockout of Walt Harris at UFC Fight Night 176 on Sunday. There were big wins for Ben Rothwell, Greg Hardy, Claudia Gadelha and Carla Esparza.
All in all, it was a tremendous success story for UFC, and White can feel vindicated in his bloody-minded determination to keep the show on the road.
A Success Story
“It feels good,” White told reporters at the post-fight news conference. “I’m happy to have it behind me. “It was successful in every way it could be successful. I feel great about it. More importantly, nobody is sick. Nobody has gotten sick. There’s no guarantees in life, but hopefully that’s the case and we all go home. It was a great event. It was a great week.”
There was one scare. Jacare Souza and two of his cornermen tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival in Jacksonville, where all three events took place. However, the event simply continued without Souza, who was quickly placed into isolation and furnished with immediate medical assistance.
UFC invested in antibody testing, daily medical check-ups and various other measures to ensure fighters remained safe. One epidemiologist criticized the martial arts organization for botching safety protocols, branding White negligent, but that was a lone voice of dissent amid a crescendo of excitement from sports fans, who were delighted to enjoy some competitive action amid the tedium of the coronavirus lockdown.
UFC Fight Island
Now the organization is gearing up to host events at a mysterious location dubbed UFC Fight Island. White has already confirmed that it is a genuine place, designed to help fighters isolate and train while preparing to take part in big events.
International fighters barred from crossing borders will be able to gather on UFC Fight Island and lock horns on the beach. “We really are putting an Octagon on the beach,” said White in an interview with ESPN. “There’s going to be training facilities there for people. There are hotels. And the whole island is going to be built, all the infrastructure is going to be built for the UFC to come do fights there.”
He will not reveal exactly where the island is, saying the less the media knows, the better. We do know that White plans to stage events on the island next month, and it will be interesting to see if Khabib Nurmagomedov returns to the Octagon there.
If you check here for UFC odds, you will see big events and exciting fights planned in the weeks and months ahead.
Other sports can now follow the blueprint that White and his team have laid out. It will be a lot more difficult for team sports like basketball and baseball to return, but individual sports like tennis can certainly take a leaf out of UFC’s book.
The old adage “when there’s a will, there’s a way” feels particularly apt. Through sheer force of will and considerable creativity, White kept the show on the road, rewarded loyal fans with exciting content and won over legions of new viewers that had nothing else to watch. It was certainly a gamble, but it broadly paid off, and UFC can now look forward to an exciting future, whereas other sports remain besieged by uncertainty.
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