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UFC 250 fighters are scared to train and worried about infecting their families

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UFC’s insistence on moving forward with its May 9, 2020, card in Sao Paolo, Brazil, has some fighters and their relatives feeling exposed to the threat of Coronavirus.

A Day in Sao Paulo and Salvador as the City Begins to Shut Down Photo by Rodrigo Paiva/Getty Images

Pretty much every major sports organization has shut down operations in the face of the fast moving Coronavirus pandemic. Every major sports organization but UFC, which continues to insist UFC 249 will go down in some shape or form on April 18, 2020, worry warts be damned.

But I feel like too much emphasis has been getting placed on UFC 249. It’s worth taking a moment to note that UFC 250 is also still going ahead in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 9, 2020. There’s no unmissable “super” fight anchoring this one that makes me think we need to push this event into existence ... risks and consequences be damned. UFC already bent over backward and took a hit to its legitimacy booking Henry Cejudo vs. Jose Aldo in the first place. Amanda Nunes is defending her Featherweight belt against a fighter who is 1-1 in UFC? Nothing screams “essential” here.

Regardless, the event will happen barring a complete shutdown of Sao Paulo, which as we’ve seen isn’t that far-fetched of a possibility. Until then, fighters set to compete at UFC 250 are stuck trying to train during a lockdown that has closed most gyms around the world. Will the event happen? Will it get canceled last second? Will they get paid if it’s canceled?

These concerns don’t even address COVID-19 itself: 1 percent mortality rate, 15 percent hospitalization rate ... spreading like wildfire through the general population. Fighters aren’t just worried about catching it themselves, they’re worried about spreading it to loved ones and family members, some of whom may be higher risk candidates for developing serious symptoms. But don’t take my word for it. Check out some quotes from the fighters themselves as they flounder through this uncertain and unsafe situation.

”Those who have a fight booked are trying to keep training at a high level while trying to take care of themselves and also deal with the panic of their relatives,” Beth Correia told MMA Fighting’s Guilherme Cruz. ”My family is very apprehensive ... I need to train at the highest level and have contact with other people. So I think it should be postponed until this situation gets better. It can’t be in Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is the state most affected by it, 90 percent of the deaths are happening there, so in my opinion we should protect ourselves. Health comes first.”

“We have to train MMA, and training jiu-jitsu and grappling are quite complicated because there’s a lot of contact. We get really scared. And then you go home and your family gets worried.”

First-time UFC fighter Carlos Felipe’s situation is also less than ideal:

Felipe doesn’t have his head coach Edilson Teixeira by his side since he “has a young child and an elderly mother at home and he won’t risk his family to coach.”

“Everyone has their hands tied,” Felipe said. “I’ve been trying to keep my body active and train at home the last few days, especially because it’s hard to find a training parent at times like these. People are in panic and following the guidelines, so pretty much every gym has closed. We’re doing what we can.”

“The situation in Sao Paulo is ugly, it’s hard to know which the decision they will make,” Brazilian heavyweight Augusto Sakai told MMA Fighting. “I hope for the best, that the event happen with fans in the arena. I’m staying positive. We’ll see what happens the next few weeks. It’s hard to stay focused with all the news and everything that’s going on in the world, but I’m trying to stay positive and not let bad news take over my head.”

“If UFC offered fighters part of their purse to stay home, I would definitely take better care of myself. I can’t say because it hasn’t happened, but I don’t think I would stop training, but I would stay active inside my house and follow the quarantine. It would be great, but since that’s not the case .…”

This whole Coronavirus thing has really highlighted a lack of morality in the way many companies treat their workers. Dana White talks a big game about doing this for a country in need of distraction, and because “fighters want to fight.” But, beyond that rhetoric is an undeniable truth: instead of taking care of its athletes, UFC is putting them — and their family members — at risk.