COVID-19: UFC return could provide a plan for other professional leagues

JACKSONVILLE (Florida): UFC President Dana White I wanted a great fight card weeks ago. He was confident that his team could carry it out either on tribal land, on a private island, or in any of the 10 states offering to host it.

Coronavirus tests. Fan-free arena. Social distancing. Self-isolation. White looked at all those unprecedented details that seemed too complex and too risky for some strangers as mere additional challenges.

I knew we could do this, I said following UFC 249 on Saturday night. I knew we could figure it out. Even with all the hurdles that we had early on, this has been fun. It's been challenging and it's been fun.

I know it sounds a little insane to say that I had fun going through this. It has been a challenge and I have enjoyed the whole game, if you want.

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White and the UFC look like the big winners following their rousing show at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, an event that could serve as a blueprint for other sports leagues around the country and the world as they start to resume during a global pandemic.

The NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and NASCAR, all of them had to have an eye on how the UFC approached and handled the first major human-centric sporting event in the U.S. since the new coronavirus shuttered much of the country nearly two months ago. The UFC created a 25-page document to address health and safety protocols, which included disinfecting the octagon between bouts and mandating tests and masks for nearly everyone in attendance.

The focus of attention only intensified when a fighter, Jacare Souza, and two of his cornerbacks tested positive for COVID-19 one day before the stacked card.

Souza was pulled from the fight and removed from the hotel where hundreds of UFC employees are staying this week. The UFC 's medical team continues to provide assistance and is helping with necessary treatment, White said.

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The UFC has two more fight nights scheduled this week in Jacksonville, beginning Wednesday, and plans to administer more than 1,000 more coronavirus tests for everyone scheduled to take part.

However, it was handled this week, this was our first week, White said. It will only get better. And we can share what we learned here by doing three events with other sports leagues who contact us and ask.

Much can be learned from what we are doing here. Not only for professional sports but also to send people back to work and many other things in life.

White said he never considered postponing UFC 249 following Souza's positive test and got support from the Florida Athletic Commission, the governor and local authorities.

The show continued and, by most accounts, received rave reviews.

Justin Gaethje stunned Tony Ferguson in the main event, earning a TKO in a lightweight fight that prepared the winner to fight incumbent Khabib Nurmagomedov next. Henry Cejudo, with blood gushing from his head and dripping down his chest, defended his bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz and then announced his retirement.

Heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou hit his fourth consecutive opponent, this one in 20 seconds. Former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy won for the sixth time in eight fights. And former welterweight champion and fan favorite Donald `` Cowboy '' Cerrone lost on the undercard, his fourth straight loss.

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The only negative was the empty arena, where the bumps, kicks, grunts, footsteps, trash chats, corner coaching and TV commentary echoed off metal beams and empty seats.

It was strange, White admitted. There are so many things you love about live sports, whether you're at home, at a bar, or live. One of the great key components of live sports is the group of people you are with and the energy you are with. arrive when interesting things happen.

Tonight was an incredible event, but it was definitely missing tonight, these moments. It's all part of what makes it so cool.

Finding a way to recreate those lost moments might be the next challenge, a white one would surely appreciate it as long as the show continues.

We are still solving all this, he said. This was the first. It was a success. Wednesday will be better. Saturday will be better than that.