I genuinely haven’t a clue when the idea of a “new normal” snuck into the COVID-19 lexicon. I am sure I could look it up and find the first time that specific term popped up, but would it really matter when the last ten months have been a somewhat continuous blur for the majority of the world?
The blackboard calendar that currently hangs in my kitchen reflects my July schedule.
Still, it remains a perplexing idea: will the world revert back to its pre-COVID state once (if) the disease is ... solved? Treated? Plenty are ready to go jam at a sold-out concert today. Others have forever reconsidered the virtues of sticking their fingers in communal bowling ball holes between digging into a plate of nachos. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, none of us can say with any certainty what societal bits and pieces will remain changed and what will revert back to their original state when the global pandemic does someday calm down.
What I am confident about is UFC’s “new normal,” the latest status quo now firmly in place. Last night’s UFC Vegas 19 event was the perfect example.
First and foremost: UFC has accepted that their Las Vegas bubble sucks. It is less of a bubble and more of a porous suggestion. Rather than try to fix it — which sounds complicated and expensive — they have adopted a quantity over quality approach. Booking 15 fights for a single event is previously unheard of, but that number now accounts for all the fight week cancellations.
Of course, there are risks. Curtis Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19 back in November, leaving us with an uninspiring main event in Anthony Smith vs. Devin Clark. Derrick Lewis is known for his back injuries. Had either Blaydes or Lewis fallen out in the final hours this time around, fight fans likely would have been left with Yana Kunitskaya vs. Ketlen Vieira as the main event.
Without trying to be unnecessarily insulting to those athletes, that’s a historically bad main event. Considering the fact that 20% (3/15) of the fights were cancelled in the final 36 hours for one reason or another, the chance of such main event devastation is not at all small.
Fortunately for the promotion, the caliber of the UFC fighters on any given non-PPV event no longer matters. In terms of viewer numbers and contractual obligations, it hardly matters how conventionally “good” a card is in terms of ranked fighters and quality contenders.
What matters instead is entertainment, and who can deny that last night’s card was fun? Eight finishes in 12 fights is a spectacular ratio. More than that, there were Tekken levels of action and violence in those knockouts. Credit to “Contenders Series” and its signed fighters, as those young athletes go out there to win (or just as often lose) in highlight reel fashion.
It no longer matters if even dedicated fans know just half of the names of a 12-fight card. The occasional flying knee will make it worth it, leave us waiting for the next special moment. Plus, how can the average fan be sad about an event losing 20% of its bouts when hardly anyone knows the full line-up or why they should care about any clearly replaceable fighter?
Even if COVID-19 dissipates, UFC is not likely to reverse track from their new normal, not when they’re breaking revenue records.
For complete UFC Vegas 19: “Lewis vs. Blaydes” results and play-by-play, click HERE!