Barring any last-minute political pressure, coronavirus surges or changes of heart, the UFC will get back to the hurt business on May 9, ending a 50-day stretch without an event. The promotion and its tenacious president Dana White have been plotting this comeback since the moment the world shut down, and truth be known, if they had their way, they would have gone on with the show throughout it.
Now they get their wish, with the blessing of the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who has deemed sports “essential business” as governments and municipalities around the nation grapple with restarting their stagnant economies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
White has the same problem as every other business leader around, which is how to do it in the safest and most ethically responsible manner. It’s just that his challenge is compounded by the logistical nightmares that few others have to face. He has contract employees that come from far and wide to take part in a sport that requires a large number of participants taking part in physical competition, who days later, will fan back out into their communities. Unintentional spread is a true concern.
But how will he do it? Details remain sparse. We know now that the event will take place at Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, and with no fans attending, but precious little else.
In a 26-minute interview with Yahoo’s Kevin Iole on Friday, White offered no specifics on what measures the organization would take.
“It’s not that I’m hesitant to say anything. I’m just not telling the media anything,” he said. “I’m not telling them anything. Basically I told you health and safety is important. It’s always whatever with us. The more you put out there… You know, it’s going to be on ESPN, there aren’t going to be any fans there. There are not going to be 15,000 people inside this arena there that are going to spread out throughout the country and all this other crap. We’re putting on an event. It’s going to be safe.”
White’s reluctance to share the organization’s safety precautions is not a “media” issue; it’s a public health issue. If he were going to fly his fighters, referees, television crew, ringside officials and support staff into Las Vegas on his private plane and put them up in a contained quarantine zone for a full month, he could keep that information to himself, but that’s not the case. Over the course of one week, there will be three events in Jacksonville, with hundreds of people descending into the area before departing back to their home locales. While it may be possible to do such events safely, it would be socially responsible to share the details with the community.
Ironically, White said as much when Iole later asked him about a disastrous interview that Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman held on CNN, where she voiced a preference to reopen the Vegas strip but put forward no ideas on how to do it safely, saying that it was up to the casino owners to figure it out and that she offered her city as a “control group.”
“I don’t know how you go on Anderson Cooper and not be prepared for the questions you know that are going to be asked, especially when you’re being so aggressive about opening up,” White said.
But really, what is the difference between what she said and what he said? Even though she’s an elected head of government and White is a business leader, he owes the same level of transparency if he wants people to have confidence that his plan is the right one at a time when many communities are still reeling from the outbreak and hospital staffs are overworked to exhaustion.
While the UFC later released a health and safety statement that listed precautions including advanced medical screenings, temperature checks and following social distancing guidelines, a more detailed plan would go a long way in proving the UFC is taking the necessary steps. They are no doubt spending a small fortune to take such extra precautions, so publicizing it would only benefit them. After all, while there are many anxiously awaiting the return of sports, there are also many more who believe it’s far too early.
From the beginning, White said the UFC would be the first sport back, and few ever really doubted him. So now, here he goes, headfirst into the unknown. From White, we would expect nothing less.
The fighters and staff along for the ride can at least be grateful that the UFC seemed to pick a spot that is flattening its curve. In the most recent statistics released Friday evening, Duval county’s total case count went down for the first time. If you’re Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje or anyone else fighting on one of those three cards, that’s the kind of trend you want to see.
Because starting on May 9, there will be blood — and hopefully nothing worse.