U.F.C. 249: What to Count on as Preventing Makes an attempt a Coronavirus Comeback

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The Final Preventing Championship is again.

On Saturday evening, in an almost empty area in Jacksonville, Fla., U.F.C. 249 will make the world’s greatest blended martial arts group the primary main North American sport to return from an industrywide shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

After all, the U.F.C.’s president, Dana White, would have most popular to not take a hiatus in any respect, even because the fast unfold of the virus shut down sports activities occasions from the N.C.A.A. basketball tournaments to the Masters, and compelled the N.B.A., N.H.L., M.L.B. and different leagues to droop their schedules. As an alternative White pressed ahead with plans to stage U.F.C. 249 on April 18, trying towards a light-weight title matchup in Brooklyn between the Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov and the American Tony Ferguson that had been years within the making.

When the New York State Athletic Fee refused to approve the occasion, the U.F.C. clung to its date whereas scouting new places. Nurmagomedov, the U.F.C.’s light-weight champion, finally dropped out, unable to go away his native Dagestan due to pandemic-related journey restrictions. He was changed by Justin Gaethje, a high light-weight contender.

When the U.F.C. lastly needed to postpone the occasion, White — wanting to show the U.F.C. might host bouts safely within the midst of the well being disaster — informed fighters to maintain coaching as a result of he would discover a answer.

The primary reply is Florida, the place Gov. Ron DeSantis declared professional sports activities a vital business when issuing a stay-at-home order final month. The U.F.C. plans to stage two extra playing cards in Jacksonville subsequent week after the collection begins Saturday with U.F.C. 249. Ferguson, an unorthodox striker recognized for bloody brawling and submissions, will face an influence puncher in Gaethje throughout the principle occasion, which figures to ship pleasure and a excessive tempo.

With no competitors from Main League Baseball or from hockey and basketball playoffs, U.F.C. is positioned for an enormous viewership win.

And but its success will even be measured by whether or not it proves dangerous to public well being. On Friday evening, U.F.C. officers mentioned one in all their fighters, Ronaldo Souza, a Brazilian middleweight nicknamed Jacare, had been pulled from U.F.C. 249 as a result of he had examined constructive for the coronavirus earlier within the day. The U.F.C. mentioned in a press release that two of Souza’s cornermen had additionally examined constructive for the virus.

Souza, who was not exhibiting signs, informed the promotion firm when he arrived in Jacksonville on Wednesday that one in all his family members might need had the virus, a U.F.C. govt informed ESPN, which is airing the preliminary bouts and promoting the pay-per-view card.

All occasions are Jap.

Saturday’s 11 remaining bouts, with the struggle between Souza and Uriah Corridor canceled, are divided amongst two broadcasts.

Beginning at 6 p.m., six preliminary bouts will seem on ESPN, the ESPN+ streaming service, and on U.F.C. Battle Go.

The principle pay-per-view card, with 5 fights, will start at 10 p.m., and can stream on ESPN+ for $64.99.

Quite a bit.

The venue, the VyStar Veterans Memorial Enviornment, often seats as much as 15,000 individuals, however U.F.C. 249 is not going to have spectators. And the U.F.C. is limiting the variety of fight-night and TV manufacturing workers members within the area, staging this present with a crew of 150 as an alternative of the standard 300.

Pre-fight and post-fight information conferences have been moved on-line, and there have been no ceremonial weigh-ins on Friday evening, when screaming followers and on-stage staredowns would usually have contributed to fight-week hype.

Lawrence Epstein, the chief working officer of U.F.C., informed the Sports activities Enterprise Journal that about 1,200 Covid-19 assessments could be used for fighters and different staff in the course of the three occasions in Florida. Throughout an internet information convention on Thursday, a number of fighters spoke concerning the discomfort of getting lengthy cotton swabs shoved up their nostrils. The take a look at was notably uncomfortable for Gaethje, who has a blocked passage in his proper nostril due to an outdated harm.

The fighters themselves are staying in a neighborhood resort, and so they have been given personal saunas to assist them shed weight and personal exercise rooms. Inside the sector, everybody in addition to the fighters is required to observe bodily distancing suggestions from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention. Outdoors the sector, rivals have been conscious of the absence of touring followers.

“It’s simply extra calm,” mentioned the U.F.C. bantamweight champion, Henry Cejudo, who will face Dominick Cruz in Saturday’s second-billed occasion. “We all know we’re combating, however it doesn’t really feel like struggle week. It’s abandoned.”

When different professional sports activities outfits suspended operations in mid-March, White made plain his intention to stay as carefully as attainable to the U.F.C.’s regular schedule. He has mentioned in interviews since then that shifting ahead has allowed the U.F.C. to keep away from layoffs. So when New York regulators barred U.F.C. 249 from Brooklyn, the corporate focused the Tachi Palace On line casino Resort on tribal land in California, suspending the occasion solely when executives from Disney, the father or mother firm of ESPN, implored White to not go on together with his California plan.

By then Gaethje had changed Nurmagomedov in the principle occasion, and hypothesis raged about the place the cardboard would land. White repeatedly talked about shifting operations to a non-public island the place fighters would fly in from all over the world for occasions that the U.F.C. deliberate to carry weekly. White says “Battle Island” continues to be a plan, although he has not revealed specifics about its location or timing.

Apart from an almost empty area and folks staying far aside from each other outdoors the octagon?

Motion.

Ferguson is a relentless stress fighter, and Gaethje has put collectively a string of gorgeous one-punch knockouts. The preliminary bouts are filled with fighters matched to provide most violence. Within the remaining bout of the ESPN preliminary fights, Anthony Pettis — whose wall-walking roundhouse kick to Ben Henderson’s head in 2010 grew to become a viral spotlight — will face Donald Cerrone, a fighter nicknamed Cowboy who has delivered, and obtained, among the U.F.C.’s most spectacular knockouts.

Usually fighters like Cerrone and Pettis would land on the pay-per-view portion of the occasion, however their presence on cable TV in all probability isn’t a coincidence, since they’re more likely to ship the sort of high-impact violence that would immediate an off-the-cuff fan to buy the principle card.

For Ferguson and Gaethje, the U.F.C.’s interim light-weight championship and the appropriate to face Nurmagomedov for the undisputed title — finally.

Different fighters have expressed a way of honor about collaborating within the first main professional sports activities occasion in america since mid-March. The featherweight Jeremy Stephens, for instance, mentioned he was pleased with proving that he and his friends don’t worry a virus and that White was dedicated to holding Individuals entertained.

“The stay-at-home man is a lifeless man,” Stephens mentioned two days earlier than his scheduled struggle in opposition to Calvin Kattar. He added: “It’s definitely worth the threat. Go on the market and do it, and we’re going to carry America again on high.”

Greg Hardy, a former N.F.L. defensive finish who will compete within the first bout on the principle card, conceded that Covid-19 presents dangers, particularly since he has bronchial asthma.

“I’m terrified, man,” Hardy mentioned. “However it’s not going to cease me from ensuring my boss has probably the most entertaining struggle.”

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