After an eight week break from action due to the Coronavirus lockdown, the UFC returned to action on Saturday night at UFC 249, becoming the first major sport in America to get back up and going as the country continues to struggle with rising infection rates. While some (including US president Donald Trump) are heralding their success as a blueprint other sports can follow to operate during these difficult times, the event did have a brush with disaster after middleweight fighter Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and his two cornermen tested positive for COVID-19.
“The bottom line is the system worked,” White declared at the post-event press conference. “What you don’t want to do is two days after the fight say, ‘Oh (expletive), ‘Jacare’ tested positive. So it worked. The system worked that we put in place.”
But unsurprisingly, that opinion isn’t shared by everyone. As the PPV portion of the card got underway, The Washington Post published an article on epidemiologist Zachary Binney’s criticisms of the event and the UFC’s safety protocols. He was, to put it lightly, not impressed with the UFC’s performance.
Two cornermen have also tested +. So that's 3 cases that appear to have been staying in the host hotel for 2 days at least 1 of whom, despite "self-isolating whenever possible", at least went to a staredown.— Zachary Binney, PhD (@zbinney_NFLinj) May 9, 2020
If this was your system working as designed, your system is bogus.
"was isolated on arrival until results came back?"— Zachary Binney, PhD (@zbinney_NFLinj) May 9, 2020
Doesn't look like it to me, folks, I gotta tell ya.https://t.co/YeyAWTJmSb
“What I’m hearing about that situation, I know that there was some video,” White said after the event. “That happened, it wasn’t for a long period of time. He went over and did something real quick. The optics, obviously, look really bad on that one. But yes, this was our first one. Even the staredown, he stayed away from me, he stayed away from Urijah [Hall]. He had gloves and a mask on and all that stuff. Nothing goes 100% perfect. We did the best job we could going into this thing.”
“This is a team effort,” he added. “We can do everything perfect but the fighters have to do their part too. Not just in the public when we’re doing things in public. When they go back to their rooms, go out at night or anything. Everyone has to be careful and do their part.”
At another point in the press conference White vowed “Wednesday will be better. Saturday will be better and so on and so forth.”
And it sounds like they are indeed making policy changes following the “Jacare” situation, with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani reporting the promotion sent out an email to all fighters on the May 13th and 16th cards asking two key questions: “Do you have any symptoms of fever, shortness of breath or coughing?” and “Have you had any exposure to anyone that may have COVID?”
Will it be enough to avoid another close call or, worse, an outbreak in the staff hotel / fight venue? With the promotion running several more events over the coming weeks, we’re going to find out.