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 a virtually empty area in Jacksonville, Fla., U.F.C. 249 will make the world’s greatest combined 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 a substitute White pressed ahead with plans to stage U.F.C. 249 on April 18, wanting 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 depart his native Dagestan due to pandemic-related journey restrictions. He was changed by Justin Gaethje, a prime light-weight contender.

When the U.F.C. lastly needed to postpone the occasion, White — desirous to show the U.F.C. may host bouts safely within the midst of the well being disaster — instructed 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 necessary 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 primary 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 a giant viewership win.

And but its success may even be measured by whether or not it proves dangerous to public well being. On Friday evening, U.F.C. officers stated one in every of 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. stated in a press release that two of Souza’s cornermen had additionally examined constructive for the virus.

Souza, who was not displaying signs, instructed the promotion firm when he arrived in Jacksonville on Wednesday that one in every of his kinfolk may need had the virus, a U.F.C. government instructed 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 battle 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. Struggle Cross.

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


The venue, the VyStar Veterans Memorial Enviornment, often seats as much as 15,000 folks, however U.F.C. 249 won’t 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 a substitute of the same old 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., instructed the Sports activities Enterprise Journal that about 1,200 Covid-19 checks can be used for fighters and different workers throughout the three occasions in Florida. Throughout an internet information convention on Thursday, a number of fighters spoke in regards to the discomfort of getting lengthy cotton swabs shoved up their nostrils. The take a look at was significantly uncomfortable for Gaethje, who has a blocked passage in his proper nostril due to an outdated damage.

The fighters themselves are staying in a neighborhood lodge, they usually have been given personal saunas to assist them shed weight and personal exercise rooms. Inside the sector, everybody moreover 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,” stated 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, but it surely doesn’t really feel like battle 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 stated in interviews since then that transferring 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 dad or mum firm of ESPN, implored White to not go on together with his California plan.

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

Apart from a virtually empty area and folks staying far other than each other exterior the octagon?


Ferguson is a relentless stress fighter, and Gaethje has put collectively a string of beautiful one-punch knockouts. The preliminary bouts are filled with fighters matched to supply most violence. Within the closing bout of the ESPN preliminary fights, Anthony Pettis — whose wall-walking roundhouse kick to Ben Henderson’s head in 2010 turned 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 prone to ship the type of high-impact violence that might immediate an informal fan to buy the primary card.

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

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

“The stay-at-home man is a lifeless man,” Stephens stated two days earlier than his scheduled battle towards Calvin Kattar. He added: “It’s definitely worth the danger. Go on the market and do it, and we’re going to convey America again on prime.”

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

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

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