While doubt swept over the immediate future of professional sports due to the coronavirus pandemic, UFC boss Dana White remained adamant his promotion would be the first major organization back.
Sure enough, the UFC made a triumphant return last week hosting three events across seven days in Jacksonville, Florida.
There was plenty of concern leading into the events around the health risks involved for fighters and staff attending the events, and there was controversy throughout the week due to questionable UFC protocols and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza testing positive for COVID-19 prior to UFC 249. His fight against Uriah Hall was ultimately scratched.
But once the fighting started the eyes of the world fell on the almost silence Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena for three cards that delivered everything in the way of excitement and entertainment.
With no fans in attendance, those watching at home were treated to a different experience. There was no loud wooing and no booing at slow fights; the instructions from cornermen during the action were clear for the world to hear, as was the heavy breathing and chat from the fighters.
New viewers just getting acquainted with MMA, or simply tuning in for a fix of live sport, got as full an introduction as they could hope for through the 32 fights that took place across the three events: 12 fights were won by KO/TKO, three by submission and the remaining 17 went to the judges where there was plenty of discussions online about the verdict of some fights.
Referees even came into the spotlight over the three events. Bantamweight title contender Dominick Cruz hit out against Keith Peterson, who refereed Cruz’s TKO loss to champion Henry Cejudo at UFC 249.
“The guy smelled like alcohol and cigarettes, so who knows what he was doing. Definitely. I wish they drug tested them,” Cruz told ESPN after the loss.
“I immediately when I saw that ref I was like, ‘Man, is there a way to veto a ref and get a new one?’ I wonder that.”
Fellow referee Jason Herzog also came into the spotlight for letting Glover Teixeira’s brutalization of Anthony Smith go on as long as it did. Smith fell to a TKO loss against the Brazilian veteran, sustaining a solid two and a half rounds of pure punishment before Herzog called it off. While being battered, Smith was doing everything he could to remain in the fight; defending himself and throwing hopeful strikes which saw Herzog allow the fight to continue.
Video Credits: ESPN
While not overly criticized for his performance, Herzog brought the blame on himself for allowing Smith to get as pummeled as he did, despite fans and pundits putting that blame on Smith’s corner.
“Let me be clear, there is only one person to blame. Me,” Herzog said in a statement. “I am responsible for each fighter I am entrusted to oversee. I will take this experience, make the necessary changes, and get better.”
Now, with the UFC up and running in the USA at least, the attention again turns to Fight Island and how long it will be before international fighters can get back to work.
White has yet to reveal any details about the island hired by the UFC to host international events but insists it will be open for business sometime next month.
If that’s the case, it could be where Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski has his first title defense. Volkanovski was expected to headline UFC 250 in Perth in early June; however, the event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to the New Zealand Herald last month, Volkanovski was open to the prospect of a Fight Island title defense.
“I’m not expecting everyone to go out of their way in these crazy times, but at the same time the UFC is letting everyone know these shows are going ahead, so if you’re not trying to stay fit now I don’t blame you, but let me know – I’ll find someone who is training and will be ready, and we’ll get it done.”