The UFC’s return to live fights over the weekend may provide a model for other professional and college sports hoping to return to action.
“I knew we could do this,” UFC president Dana White told the Associated Press following the fights 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."
Those hurdles included competing in a fan-free arena while enforcing social distancing, self-isolation and testing fighters for COVID-19.
“I know that sounds a little demented to say I’ve had fun going through this,” White said. “It’s been challenging and I’ve enjoyed the whole game of it, if you will.”
The fights ended up taking place at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. The AP reports that the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and NASCAR all had their eye on how the UFC managed the many challenges related to holding a live event during a pandemic.
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.
Things got complicated when Jacaré Souza and two of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19 a day before the stacked card. As a result, Souza was pulled from the fight and removed from the card.
The UFC plans to administer more than 1,000 coronavirus tests this week, as it plans for more fights this Wednesday.
“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 doing three events with other sports leagues who are reaching out to us and asking."
White said he never considered canceling the fights after Souza’s positive test, and he had support from the Florida Athletic Commission, the governor and local authorities.
The fights were held in a largely empty arena, which White conceded was strange.
“It was weird,” White said. “There’s so many things that you love about live sports, whether you’re home, in a bar or there live. One of the big, key components to live sports are the group of people that you’re with and the energy that you get when cool things happen."