Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) wanted to pave the way for other major sports leagues by returning to action as quickly as possible, despite the coronavirus pandemic that continues its stranglehold on most of the world.
Things got off to a rocky start when Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza tested positive for COVID-19, along with two members from his fight team, and was booted from the UFC 249 pay-per-view (PPV) event, which took place on May 9 in Jacksonville, Florida.
“There have been no other positive COVID-19 tests reported from the remaining athletes participating in UFC 249,” the promotion boasted after the fact. “The response to this development is indicative of the effectiveness of the health and safety measures UFC has put in place for this event.”
A day later, reigning bantamweight champion, Henry Cejudo, retired from mixed martial arts (MMA) after stopping former titleholder Dominick Cruz, who made quite the fuss about the referee’s call with just two seconds left in the second stanza.
“I’m happy with my career, I’ve done enough in the sport,” Cejudo told Joe Rogan. “I want to walk away and enjoy myself. I’m 33 years old. I have my girl back home. I eventually want to start a family. Since I was 11 years old, I’ve sacrificed my whole life to get where I’m at today. I’m not going to let nobody take that from me so I’m retiring tonight.”
Finally, almost comically, the Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov lightweight title fight that fans waited five years to see came to bloody end in the fifth round of the UFC 249 headliner, after “El Cucuy” was finished on his feet by human “Highlight” reel, Justin Gaethje.
“Hard work man, hard work since I was four years old,” Gaethje said after the bout. “Each day at a time, I never look past one day and I want to be better than yesterday.”
I’m not going to tell you that it was a mistake to hold UFC 249 on May 9, because it was a great night of fights. I paid for it and watched it, which I guess means I supported it. But the promotion rolled the dice by rushing back to action and came up snake eyes.
By waiting, Souza would not have put the rest of the fighters (and staff) at risk with his presence, Cruz could have gotten a tune-up fight before attempting to dethrone the best fighter in his division, and Ferguson could have been rebooked for July.
It’s okay to be glad UFC 249 happened and still be upset with how things unfolded. I understand that UFC needs to hold shows to get its money from ESPN and fighters needs UFC to hold shows to get paid and the media needs UFC to hold shows to have a reason to exist.
We’re all in this together.
Did UFC come back too soon? Maybe, maybe not. I can easily envision a scenario where UFC waits until July, the current timeline for Bellator MMA, and still ends up with a coronavirus case, a Cejudo retirement, and who knows what else.
That’s what makes this sport so unpredictable (and so enjoyable).
We won't have much time to dwell on it, either, as UFC returns to action this Wednesday night and then again on Saturday with a pair of ESPN+ cards, before yet another event on May 23. The promotion has a lot of catching up to do and it’s full steam ahead, regardless of who (or what) gets run over in the process.
For complete UFC 249 results and play-by-play action CLICK HERE.