Everybody in North America remembers March as the month when the corona virus s—t really hit the fan.
For mixed martial arts (MMA), we watched our last Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event with a crowd (UFC 248: “Adesanya vs. Romero” on March 7, 2020). Then, the following weekend, UFC Fight Night in Brazil ended up being the first event with no crowd. On March 15, world figures seemed to wake up to the dangers of the pandemic running unchecked through their countries. Borders closed, lockdowns were enacted and all UFC events from March 21 to May 2 ended up being canceled.
UFC didn’t end up being allowed to hold private, fan-less events in its own private arena until May 30, 2020. Since then things have been rolling ... we wouldn’t say without a hitch given the extremely lengthy list of fighters who have caught COVID-19 and the number of fights that have been canceled because of the virus. But all things considered, UFC has done an impressive job keeping its Las Vegas-based events from becoming virus-spreading hotspots.
But, that may not save the promotion if the numbers in Nevada continue to rise ... and there certainly doesn’t look like they’re about to drop. November has seen new cases in the state go up from 1,000 to 2,500. Thirty more people died of COVID yesterday alone. Some may say, “So what? Those numbers don’t sound high.” But, it’s the exponential growth that other states are already seeing and the imminent overwhelming of hospital ICUs that has officials considering a return to tough lockdowns.
The Las Vegas Review Journal has Gov. Steve Sisolak saying new measures are coming soon, and one has to wonder if that means UFC APEX might get shut back down.
At the UFC 255 press conference, Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole said word going around backchannels was that combat sports might shut down sooner rather than later. He asked whether Dana White had any information on that.
“There’s been a rumor going around that Governor Sisolak might end what you’re doing, what Top Rank is doing,” Iole said. “Is there a chance that the Governor won’t let you continue to do this now that the Coronavirus is getting worse. There was a rumor around that potentially he was going to put an order out saying that he wasn’t going to allow Top Rank or you to keep doing these shows.”
“I never heard anything remotely close to that,” a visibly perturbed White replied. “Look at what we’ve done. That would be madness. I haven’t heard anything even remotely close to that.”
But, as many regional gym and fitness center owners know, it often doesn’t matter whether you are or aren’t statistically the ones doing all the spreading. Shutting down gyms and sports seems to be right at the top of the lockdown playlist politicians have been using when trying to do “something” that doesn’t involve a complete proper quarantine for everyone but essential workers (real essential workers).
UFC’s latest APEX run officially ends on Dec. 19, 2020, with the Khamzat Chimaev vs. Leon Edwards-led ESPN event. After that it’s back to Abu Dhabi on January 23rd. Could UFC be forced to move some of these remaining four Vegas cards to Fight Island? And could they end up staying there even longer? With no clear idea just how big the second wave of coronavirus will be, we’ll just have to wait and see.