One of the biggest effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a complete halt in almost all live sporting events, but not for the UFC. Tournaments and leagues across most major sports have had to be postponed, suspended or even cancelled altogether in the face of strict hygiene and social distancing protocols. In such a scenario, there have been a few sports which are trying to make a return to live matches and events, albeit in the absence of fans and with very strict guidelines in terms of testing and isolation. Soccer has been one such sport, with Germany’s Bundesliga having returned to action in May, and the likes of Spain, Italy and England soon to follow suit by resuming their football leagues in June. Another sport, which has probably been at the forefront of trying to stay in action even as the pandemic raged on, has been the UFC.
The UFC returns to Las Vegas
The UFC had its first event in Las Vegas since the pandemic, having implemented strict protocols for its fighters and their entourages. All fighters and their support staff were administered tests upon their arrival at the designated hotel in Vegas, and were then expected to self-isolate in their hotel rooms till the results were available. Athletes testing negative were then permitted to carry on their preparations for their weekend’s fights, while those who tested positive had to stay in their rooms and await further instructions from the UFC organizers and local healthcare providers. There was a second test for the players and their staff after the weigh-in on Friday, with similar rules in terms of self-isolation after the tests were administered. In fact, all staff members, as well as athletes, would only break their self-isolation when they left the hotel to travel to the fight venue, showing just how strict these testing guidelines were as the UFC attempted to pull off the event in Vegas without a hitch.
Of course, the UFC had been trying to return and stage events for a long time, even with the pandemic becoming more and more widespread in the United States. For example, UFC 249, which was ultimately staged in Jacksonville, Florida on 8th May, was originally going to be held at the Tachi Palace Resort Casino in Lemoore, California, on 18th April.
Casinos stand to gain with UFC return
The casino, situated on tribal land in northern California and thus not subject to the jurisdiction of California’s state athletic commission, was supposed to host up to four events over the weekend in April. This would have been a major boost for the casino, as it has been shut since the beginning of April due to the pandemic. While a number of casinos have attempted to have some business continuing through online casinos and gambling website, with demand for these services surging during lockdown and the top online casinos doing extremely well, it cannot compare to the revenue lost from the floor, as well as the money that events such as the UFC can bring in. In that sense, the chance to host UFC 249 would have been a godsend for the casino, allowing it to make some revenue at a time when the gambling industry is struggling. However, this did not come to pass, and the event had to eventually be postponed, as well as moved to Florida.
UFC had even attempted to secure a private island to host events for international fighters who cannot travel to the US at the moment, showing just how desperate and committed the organization was to host events during this time. Their commitment did pay off with the events in Florida and Las Vegas, and as restrictions are gradually eased across the country, expect to see more such fights and events.