JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – President Trump congratulated UFC on restarting the sports world Saturday night after a hiatus of nearly two months.
Trump’s recorded message was played during ESPN’s broadcast of the UFC 249 undercard from a fan-free arena in Jacksonville.
“I want to congratulate (UFC President) Dana White and the UFC,” said Trump. “They’re going to have a big game. We love it. We think it’s important. Get the sports competitions back. Let’s play. Get the social distance and whatever else you need to do. We need sports. We want our sports back. Congratulations to Dana White and UFC. ”
UFC 249 was the first major sporting event to take place since the global pandemic knocked out much of the country nearly eight weeks ago. It was originally scheduled for April 18 in New York, but was delayed in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The Martial Arts Colossus holds three shows in eight days in Jacksonville, where state officials exempt professional sports with a national audience from a home as long as “the venue is closed to the general public”.
The UFC released a 25-page document to address the health and safety protocols, procedures that led Jacaré Souza to test positive for COVID-19 on Friday. His middleweight game against Uriah Hall was canceled late on Friday. Souza’s two Cornermen also tested positive, the UFC said in a statement.
“All three men have left the host hotel and will isolate themselves outside the premises, where the UFC medical team will monitor their conditions remotely and provide assistance with any necessary treatment,” said the UFC.
The positive results certainly increased the focus on the event. Every other sport pays close attention to see how it plays out. White previously said Trump wants the event to serve as a blueprint for the return of live sports.
White did not want to postpone fighting. He tried to host the event on tribal land in California and still hopes to create a ‘Fight Island’ for future cards.
He settled in Jacksonville for at least a week – without fans and social distance rules.
Judges and broadcasters were separated. Fighters, trainers, referees, judges, UFC employees and even external media had to pass COVID-19 tests to enter the Veterans Memorial Arena.
But not everyone followed the rules. White mixed and punched fists with almost every fighter during official weighings held in a hotel ballroom on Friday.
Souza arrived with gloves and a mask waiting for his test results. But he had warned UFC officials that a family member in Orlando, where he was testing, may have tested positive for the coronavirus. His opponent, Hall, wore a mask and kept his distance. White was standing between them without a mask.
Many of those in attendance wore masks and gloves on Saturday, although several were apparently exempt from the mandate. Referees, ring announcer Bruce Buffer, other octagon officials and the ring girl were unmasked.
The cage floor was disinfected between attacks and the padded parts of the octagon were wiped off between rounds.
Without fans, sounds that would normally be muted or completely drowned out filled the empty arena. Every kick, punch, grunt and step echoed in the octagon. Commentators and camera clicks were heard everywhere. Coaching tips and exchanges were common, often with an R rating and sometimes even comical.
“I don’t like people anyway,” said Ryan “Superman” Spann (18-5), who extended his winning streak to eight fights by defeating veteran Sam Alvey (33-14) in a split decision. “It’s good. It was nothing. The world is my audience.”