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UFC’s Las Vegas COVID bubble has popped

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With COVID ravaging main events and taking out fights a day or two before events, something is seriously wrong with UFC’s bubble procedures in Nevada.

UFC Fight Night: Smith v Clark Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Another week, another card ravaged by positive COVID tests.

This time it was UFC Vegas 16, which saw Kevin Holland fall out as main event replacement against Jack Hermansson due to COVID. But that came weeks out. More concerning was the two fights that were canceled on fight day between Nate Landwehr vs. Movsar Evloev and Montana De La Rosa vs. Taila Santos. Both saw last minute positives that scrapped their respective bouts, making you wonder what the hell is going on in Las Vegas?

UFC Vegas cards were always bound to be affected more than “Fight Island” events for one simple reason: they featured more U.S. fighters, and the United States is currently No. 1 (by a long shot) in total cases, active cases and COVID death. Most fighters can’t train in a bubble, so you’ve got a lot more people catching it leading up to the event. And then with the virus sometimes taking several days to start triggering positive tests, there’s a chance fighters are going to be arriving at the UFC APEX negative and then becoming positive soon after.

Now look at Abu Dhabi, which has an extreme “bubble’ system in place to keep the virus out of “Fight Island.” In addition to featuring more international fights, tests are delivered before fighters are even allowed on a plane to U.A.E. From there they get put into hotel quarantine, repeatedly tested, and then passed into “Fight Island” where the only people around are others who have just passed the several day testing / quarantine process themselves.

It’s more iron dome than bubble, really.

“You have to be in the bubble,” UFC President, Dana White, said back in August. “It’s impossible to pull this thing off without a bubble. You have to do it.”

But it sounds like the Las Vegas bubble for UFC APEX events isn’t much of a bubble at all. Reddit user bsWINcups — the lucky man who secretly bought a spot as Mike Perry’s cornerman at UFC 255 — revealed how loose things were.

“You can actually leave the fighter hotel throughout the week,” he wrote (via The Scrap). “Something I didn’t know until I was there. You take a test as soon as you arrive and then you are free to go wherever in Vegas until weigh-ins. After weigh-ins, you get tested again and can’t leave until fight night. I thought it was weird but it’s how these fighters are testing positive on fight day/weigh-in day.”

White has been giving a number of rather interesting takes on COVID over the past month, from suggesting it may not be a big deal after the election, to switching his story and saying everyone would end up catching it sooner or later.

Now?

“This is the world we live in, you know what I mean?” he said at the UFC Vegas 16 post-fight press conference. “I was in the gym this morning, the Gonzaga game, number one against number two got canceled today in college basketball. The big game that was supposed to happen on Thanksgiving got pushed back and ended up airing on a Tuesday at 2 in the afternoon. The list goes on and on of things that are happening right now because of COVID. We all gotta, pun intended, roll with the punches right now.”

“We did have those late scratches,” reporter John Morgan said. “I’m just curious, obviously this is the world we’re living in, but what’s happening where these guys are testing positive on fight day? How does it ... they’re testing negative ... I’m just trying to understand what’s happening?”

“Who knows, man ... I have no idea,” White replied. “This COVID thing is more rampant now ... another friend who lives out on an island in Alaska with less than 4,000 people, over 40 people have COVID there now and it’s a big huge deal. This stuff is definitely spreading. When we were first going through this stuff I didn’t know anyone that had it. Then one employee got it and got through it quick. But personally someone that I was friends with hadn’t had it. Now everyone’s got it, you know what I mean?

“How is this happening on fight week ... people show up with it or I think what happened this time was someone had contact with someone else and then was training their fighter and then gave it to them,” he continued. “I don’t know exactly what the deal was. I don’t know.”

That sounds like the answer of someone who has just accepted a certain amount of COVID fallout per event and is no longer keeping things as tight as they were in the early days. And hey, like everyone else in North America I’m nine months into this thing and I know how procedures can get sloppy. But it’s never too late to get locked back down properly and fix those holes.

UFC needs to bubble back up properly in Vegas.