How was UFC 249 set up amid the coronavirus pandemic?

·Writer

Despite last-minute positive tests and the COVID-19 pandemic still raging in the United States, UFC 249 took place on Saturday night at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

The event, though, looked nothing like any other UFC event before.

UFC president Dana White was adamant about holding UFC 249, and went to great lengths to try and make that happen last month. While repeatedly ignoring the advice of medical experts and state mandates, White tried hard to hold the event at multiple locations — even attempting to do it on tribal land in California — before ESPN and Disney finally shut him down

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

With most of Florida having been reopened and sports deemed an essential business in the state, however, White got it and two other fight cards scheduled.

There were no fans allowed at the arena on Saturday and plenty of other social distancing measures in place. Here’s what it looked like amid the pandemic.

Fighters tested

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and two of his cornermen tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday, and his fight with Uriah Hall was scratched from the card. The UFC said that Souza was isolated upon his arrival in Jacksonville on Wednesday, though he participated in a weigh-in and face-off on Friday around others — including a mask-less White — before his test came back.

The UFC, though, said that every other fighter on the card was tested and that those tests came back negative. They reportedly administered 1,200 tests on about 300 people this week, too. 

There were more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of Saturday afternoon, according to The New York Times, and more than 78,000 deaths attributed to the virus. Florida had nearly 40,000 cases alone, and Duval County — where the fights took place — had more than 1,100.

A socially distanced setup

The Octagon setup was very unusual. It was still located in the center of the arena — which looked weird, given that there was nobody in the stands — however all of the media and officials tables were spaced out from each other. 

The three ESPN announcers were all seated at different tables for the fights after initially starting the broadcast standing near each other.

The media room looked different, too. Every media member had an individual table set up for them, including a microphone to prohibit a singular one being passed around the room during interviews. 

Media members rode the shuttle to the arena with plenty of room between them, and masks were required at all times.

Precautions during the fights

Nearly everyone inside the arena besides of the fighters wore masks and gloves on Saturday night. 

Before the first preliminary fight of the night between Ryan Spann and Sam Alvey, both fighters walked out of the tunnel into the arena without masks or gloves — however most of their teams had both on. 

The referees didn’t wear masks, and neither did announcer Bruce Buffer or the lone Octagon girl.

The fight itself was a little weird to watch, as everything in the arena could be heard on the broadcast. Joe Rogan entered the cage after Spann’s win to interview him on ESPN, too, and did so without a mask or gloves on. He even shook Spann’s hand.

Other than that, though, it appeared that anyone else who entered the Octagon had protective equipment on.

While it was different, and far from perfect, UFC 249 provided fans with live sports for the first time in months. That has to count for something.

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