The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is to organize the first significant American sporting event in almost two months on Saturday night. On Friday, in any case, one of the sessions must be canceled because a fighter tested positive for the virus. UFC 249, the first major US game since coronavirus shutdowns, will see fighters Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje fight for the interim lightweight championship on Saturday.
On Saturday night, in an about void arena in Jacksonville, Fla., UFC 249 will make the world’s biggest mixed martial arts association the first significant North American sport to come back from an industrywide shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
UFC’s president, Dana White, would have favored not to take a hiatus by any means, even as the fast spread of the virus shut down sports events from the N.C.A.A. basketball competitions to the Masters, and constrained the N.B.A., N.H.L., M.L.B. also, different leagues to suspend their schedules. Rather White pressed forward with plans to organize UFC 249 on April 18, looking toward a lightweight title matchup in Brooklyn between the Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov and the American Tony Ferguson that had been years in the making.
At the point when the New York State Athletic Commission wouldn’t approve the event, the UFC clung to its date while exploring new locations. Nurmagomedov, the UFC’s lightweight champion, eventually dropped out, unfit to leave his native Dagestan in light of pandemic-related travel limitations. He was supplanted by Justin Gaethje, a top lightweight contender.
At the point when the UFC at last needed to delay the event, White — anxious to demonstrate the UFC could host sessions securely amidst the health emergency — advised fighters to continue training because he would discover a solution.
The first solution is Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis pronounced pro sports a fundamental industry when giving a stay-at-home order a month ago. The UFC plans to organize two additional cards in Jacksonville one week from now after the series starts Saturday with UFC 249. Ferguson, an unorthodox striker known for bloody brawling and submissions, will confront a power puncher in Gaethje during the main event, which figures to deliver fervor and a high pace.
With no competition from Major League Baseball or hockey and basketball playoffs, UFC is situated for a major viewership win.
But its prosperity will likewise be estimated by whether it demonstrates harmful to public health. On Friday night, UFC authorities said one of their contenders, Ronaldo Souza, a Brazilian middleweight nicknamed Jacare, had been pulled from UFC 249 because he had tested positive for the coronavirus prior in the day. The UFC said in a statement that two of Souza’s cornermen had likewise tested positive for the virus.
Souza, who was not demonstrating symptoms, told the promotion organization when he showed up in Jacksonville on Wednesday that one of his relatives may have had the virus, a UFC official told ESPN, which is airing the preliminary sessions and selling the pay-per-view card.
Where to watch UFC 249
All times are Eastern.
Saturday’s 11 remaining sessions, with the fight between Souza and Uriah Hall canceled, are isolated among two broadcasts.
Beginning at 6 p.m., six preliminary sessions will show up on ESPN, the ESPN+ streaming service, and on UFC Battle Pass.
The main pay-per-view card, with five fights, will start at 10 p.m. and will stream on ESPN+ for $64.99.
What’s different about this card?
A great deal.
The venue, the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, for the most part, situates up to 15,000 individuals, however, UFC 249 won’t have observers. Also, the U.F.C. is restricting the number of fight night and TV production staff individuals in the arena, organizing this show with a team of 150 rather than the usual 300.
Pre-fight and post-fight news conferences have been moved on the web, and there were no ceremonial weigh-ins on Friday night when screaming fans and on-stage staredowns would ordinarily have added to fight-week publicity.
Lawrence Epstein, the head operating official of UFC, informed the Sports Business Journal that concerning 1,200 Covid-19 tests would be used for contenders and different representatives during the three events in Florida. During an online news conference on Thursday, a few contenders talked about the discomfort of having long discomfort pushed up their noses. The test was especially awkward for Gaethje, who has a blocked section in his right nostril because of an old physical issue.
The fighters themselves are staying in a local hotel, and they have been given private saunas to assist them with shedding weight and private exercise rooms. Inside the arena, everybody other than the fighters is required to follow physical distancing proposals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outside the arena, contenders have known about the nonappearance of traveling fans.
“It’s just more calm,” said the U.F.C. bantamweight champion, Henry Cejudo, who will face Dominick Cruz in Saturday’s second-billed event. “We know we’re fighting, but it doesn’t feel like fight week. It’s deserted.”
How did the event get to this point?
At the point when other pro sports outfits suspended operations in mid-March, White made plain his aim to stick as intently as possible to the U.F.C’s. normal schedule. He has said in interviews from that point forward that pushing ahead has permitted the U.F.C. to dodge layoffs. So when New York regulators banned UFC 249 from Brooklyn, the organization focused on the Tachi Palace Casino Resort on tribal land in California, delaying the event just when executives from Disney, the parent organization of ESPN, begged White not to go on with his California plan.
By then Gaethje had supplanted Nurmagomedov in the main event, and speculation seethed about where the card would land. White more than once discussed moving activities to a private island where contenders would fly in from around the globe for events that the U.F.C. wanted to hold week after week. White says “Fight Island” is as yet a plan, however, he has not uncovered points of interest about its location or timing.
What can viewers expect?
Other than an about void arena and individuals remaining far separated from each other outside the octagon?
Ferguson is a relentless pressure contender, and Gaethje has assembled a string of stunning one-punch knockouts. The preliminary sessions are full of contenders coordinated to create the most extreme violence. In the final bout of the ESPN preliminary fights, Anthony Pettis — whose wall-walking roundhouse kick to Ben Henderson’s head in 2010 became a viral feature — will confront Donald Cerrone, a fighter nicknamed Cowboy who has delivered, and got, some of the UFC’s most spectacular knockouts.
Normally contenders like Cerrone and Pettis would arrive on the pay-per-view portion of the event, yet their appearance on cable TV most likely isn’t a coincidence, since they are probably going to deliver the sort of high-impact violence that could prompt a casual fan to buy the main card.
How might this benefit the fighters?
For Ferguson and Gaethje, the U.F.C’s. interim lightweight championship and the option to confront Nurmagomedov for the undisputed title — eventually.
Different fighters have communicated a feeling of honor about taking an interest in the first significant pro sports event in the United States since mid-March. The featherweight Jeremy Stephens, for example, said he was proud of demonstrating that he and his friends don’t fear a virus and that White was focused on keeping Americans entertained.
“The stay-at-home man is a dead man,” Stephens said two days before his scheduled fight against Calvin Kattar. He included: “It’s worth the risk. Go out there and do it, and we’re going to bring America back on top.”
Greg Hardy, a previous N.F.L. defensive end who will contend in the first session on the main card, surrendered that Covid-19 presents dangers, particularly since he has asthma.
“I’m terrified, man,” Hardy said. “But it’s not going to stop me from making sure my boss has the most entertaining fight.”