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With UFC events on horizon, ringside physicians’ group softens stance on COVID-19

UFC Fight Night: Salikhov v Staropoli Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

As portions of the economy begin to reopen and the UFC prepares to restart its event schedule, the Association of Ringside Physicians has softened its stance on holding combat sports events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a prepared statement, the ARP on Saturday acknowledged the shifting circumstances around the country on COVID-19 and urged caution as promoters and regulators figure out how to move forward safely.

“Although it is impossible to eliminate all risk associated with COVID-19, precautions can be made to reduce the risk of viral transmission,” the statement read.

This past month, the ARP called for the indefinite suspension of all combat sports events on the same day the UFC announced plans to move forward with UFC 249. The pay-per-view event was later postponed after the promotion’s broadcast partner asked the promotion to “stand down” amid political pressure over plans to hold the event on tribal land in California on April 18.

With several states moving to reopen the economy and the state of Florida green-lighting the regulation of combat sports events, the ARP said regulators are working on plans to limit the exposure of participants. The group urged all stakeholders to base decisions on science.

The foundation for the UFC’s restart was laid by a political act. As state governments around the country moved to restrict nonessential businesses, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared pro wrestling an essential business. The governor’s move arrived the same day a pro-Trump political action committee headed by Linda McMahon, wife of WWE owner Vince McMahon, pledged $18.5 million worth of pro-Trump advertising in the state. UFC President Dana White previously has pledged $1 million to the PAC.

In the face of criticism from the media and MMA observers, White has promised fighters competing at future events will be repeatedly tested, though he’s declined to elaborate on the measures that will be taken. The promotion this week outlined a new safety protocol for UFC 249 – now scheduled for May 9 – and two other events scheduled for May 13 and 16 in Jacksonville, Fla. The protocol requires “mandatory medical screening process and tests” and “additional medical screening” on a daily basis. The exact tests being given are unknown.

The Florida State Boxing Commission, which regulates the May UFC events, told MMA Fighting the commission “will employ social distancing wherever possible as recommended by the CDC, state and local officials in addition to existing health, safety and sanitation protocols” in response to an interview requesting information on safety procedures in place.

Other major MMA promotions await the go-ahead from state regulators. The ViacomCBS-owned Bellator hopes to promote closed-door events on a Hollywood soundstage this summer after the California State Athletic Commission implements new safety protocols.

Here is the ARP’s full statement:

The Association of Ringside Physicians recognizes that the circumstances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic are continually changing and evolving. As stay-at-home orders are relaxed, athletic commissions and combat sports governing bodies are looking to restart operations.

Although it is impossible to eliminate all risk associated with COVID-19, precautions can be made to reduce the risk of viral transmission. Many athletic commissions, organizations and promotors are developing new guidelines to limit exposure to all involved at events, including athletes, their teams, commission personnel and support staff.

Combat sports event procedures regarding COVID-19 precautions should be actively developed, regularly reviewed and modified based on the evolving knowledge and scientific evidence put forth by public health authorities. These guidelines should also involve local and regional public health officials as well as infectious disease experts and epidemiologists.

Our thoughts continue to be with those who have been and will be affected by this disease. We remain steadfast in our mission to serve, protect and educate all involved in combat sports. If any combat sports organization would like help in developing its guidelines, the Association of Ringside Physicians can provide assistance and guidance.

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