Fight fans better get used to seeing a lot more of the UFC APEX on their screens this year.
Though the octagon has begun traveling again for the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March of last year, the majority of events have still taken place in Las Vegas at the UFC APEX, a facility owned by the promotion that has proven to be a convenient and controllable hub for hosting events.
Saturday’s UFC 262 event took place at a sold-out Toyota Center in Houston, while UFC 261 also saw a packed crowd at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., providing some hope that things are returning to normal for the UFC.
With Brazil’s Charles Oliveira claiming the lightweight championship in Saturday’s main event with a stunning TKO victory over Michael Chandler, a return to Oliveira’s home country would seem to be an ideal move, but UFC President Dana White believes it’s too soon to plan for that kind of trip.
“I’m sure some of us that live in Vegas are excited to get home and there’s no more masks and all that stuff, but I don’t know about the rest of the country and the rest of the world for that matter,” White said at the UFC 262 post-fight press conference. “I have no idea. Take this one day at a time.”
The announced attendance for UFC 262 was 16,000 fans, a return to form for the UFC, which is used to selling out venues in every corner of the globe. That includes venues in smaller cities that regularly hosted Fight Night events before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Texas and Florida are two states that have opened up and lifted COVID-19 mask mandates and business capacity restrictions, but its unclear what states will follow suit and when. For White and the UFC, that means the APEX will remain the home of Fight Night events for the foreseeable future.
“We’re not even looking at [traveling for] Fight Nights,” White said. “We didn’t even have gates in our budget until October or November, so right now to start trying to find places for Fight Nights, it just makes no sense. We’ll stay at the cozy APEX and do our thing for the rest of the year, I think.”
Even in states that are easing their restrictions related to COVID-19, White won’t consider those locations given that he has maintained throughout the pandemic that he will only go to venues that will allow for 100 percent capacity. The last Fight Night event in North America with fans in attendance was UFC Norfolk on Feb. 29, 2020, which drew 7,098 fans to Chartway Arena.
The UFC APEX has been invaluable in allowing the promotion to continue to hold cards for the past 14 months. When the time comes that the UFC can take its smaller shows on the road again, would White consider keeping the majority of Fight Nights at the APEX anyway?
“No,” White said. “One of the reasons that I believe personally that this sport has grown as big and fast as it is, is because we take this thing all over the world. We go into Oklahoma and places where people usually don’t get fights. So the Fight Nights are a big part of our brand. We’ll continue to do it when the whole country opens up.
“For us, right now, we’re trying to figure out what’s next for the next pay-per-view after Vegas. Guys, I’ve been to New York and I talk to people in Massachusetts and places like this where people aren’t doing sh*t still. I was in New York last week, The Peninsula, one of the biggest, nicest hotels in the world isn’t open and hasn’t been open for a year and a half. The St. Regis isn’t open, Cipriani isn’t open, all these places are closed, and maybe some of you here are from New York and that’s crazy to me. When I go there and these places are all still closed, you guys that live in Vegas, I was in Caesars Palace the other day, you couldn’t fit more people in that place, it was madness.
“Vegas is rocking and booming, you come to Texas, you go to Florida, people are living normal lives, but you start thinking about where we take this thing next, a lot of these states are still really, really closed down.”