In this week’s edition of King & Slim, MMA writers Ant Walker and Kristen King discuss the apparent blueprint the UFC has set for other combat sports promotions to potentially resume putting on fight cards during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ant: So, its been a little while since we’ve done this and it’s about time we get back on the horse since it looks like fights are going to be going on at least on a semi-regular basis despite the COVID-19 outbreak going on. Now, the UFC had done this three-fight card experiment in Jacksonville, Florida after a lot of controversy that involved crossing the country, supposed Fight Island and skipping regulations and what not. Here we are and we have three in the book for the UFC in the past week. I think I know what you’re answer is going to be because I know what my answer is going to be on this about whether or not we can call this a success. Do you think the UFC has at least laid the groundwork for other promotions to follow suit and start putting events back on?
Kristen: It seems as if they successfully did just that and it’s weird to say because I know with all of the backlash they received, it seemed like it was on its way to fail (especially when they got that first positive test back from Jacare Souza right before UFC 249), but then everything appeared to go off without a hitch. It feels like they may have laid the groundwork for other combat sports to return with other promotions like Bellator and ONE already starting to plan cards in the upcoming months, but there is still some time that needs to be taken into consideration before fully calling this a win.
Ant: Right. I’m hesitant to say everything went okay just because there is that incubation period where someone can contract the coronavirus and then be asymptomatic, so I want to wait at least another week or so before we can definitively say this was a success. Especially considering that Jacare was definitely spotted doing the exact opposite of social distancing amongst a bunch of other fighters that were prepared to weigh in. There are some question marks there. As far as whether or not this had laid the groundwork, I think it has at least given other promoters some level of confidence that it can take place or that they can find some sanctioning body willing to allow it. They can find a venue willing to house it and they can find fighters willing to participate. More importantly, there is an audience willing to watch it, so that is why we are seeing other promoters announce they are at least willing to try something.
Titan FC has an event scheduled for next Friday. We also have Bellator MMA with some rumored plans of them trying to use some sort of property in Studio City, California that Viacom owns so that they may house some closed-door events. We’ve had Top Rank looking into continuing operations in Vegas. There were rumors of operations continuing at the WWE facility in Orlando. At the very least, there has been a blueprint set to say this can be done. As far as what it looks like for other promoters, I can’t really say simply because we don’t quite know what it looks like for the UFC. They even broke so many of their protocols as far as distancing goes between commentators, in-cage interviews, and proper use of gloves and masks. So, who’s to say what the actual groundwork is?
Kristen: Yeah, I thought it was a bit peculiar when we were getting all the information regarding the guidelines that were supposed to be followed before, during and after fight night only to see that on fight night, it was a different story. We were under the impression that there wasn’t going to be any in-cage interviews or that the announcers would be practicing social distancing (which they did throughout the night by sitting at separate tables, but when opening the show, they were standing in close proximity with one another), so it was weird to see those guidelines not being totally followed. Perhaps because they believed they had done everything right leading up to the fights as far as testing goes, they could be lax in their approach to handling the night in a manner we are used to. I understand wanting to make everything seem normal right now, but that is not the case right now, so I can bypass the things we are typically used to for the sake of the safety and health of everyone involved in making these cards happen. I can appreciate that they did try to do everything right by setting these rules, but if you’re not going to fully abide by them, then it kind of defeats the purpose of having them in the first place. Hopefully, other promotions can look at what the UFC has done thus far and improve on what has already been set in place.
Ant: I think that is an excellent point right there. I certainly hope the UFC does its own bit of improving as they press on. Right now, we’re waiting on word whether or not the Nevada State Athletic Commission is going to sanction the Tyron Woodley and Gilbert Burns card for the 30th of this month in the Apex Center in Vegas. I’d like to see the UFC and other promoters follow these protocols to the letter, even if it’s just a formality. I’d like to see that being done as a sign of commitment to the task at hand. If you are going to push forward during a pandemic, then by all means, do so. But, do so in the safest way possible even if it’s just a show to satisfy the likes of us because at least it shows us you’re doing more than putting an event on to help your bottom line.
Kristen: Overall, there is room for improvement here. They did what they could have done given the circumstances, so I won’t sit here and say that the events were a fail because they were not. I just hope moving forward the health and safety of everyone involved in these cards is ensured by better following the rules so that there isn’t going to be an “Aha! I told you so!” moment if something unfortunate happens to any of these people while on or after the job is done.
Ant: What I’d like to see from the UFC and other promoters is a ramp-up in transparency. I think that would show the biggest improvement. If there is some transparency in what the protocols are and what it looks like behind the scenes to enforce those protocols, then we can actually be able to tell whether or not things are working the way they are supposed to. By trying to keep everything in house, you limit the amount of eyeballs that are needed right now. In a circumstance like this, transparency is necessary, especially when it’s a general public safety issue.