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Ultimate Fighting Championship is implementing unprecedented safety precautions to ensure UFC 249, one of the first major live sporting events to occur during the coronavirus pandemic, proceeds without issue on Saturday night.
The pay-per-view event will be held without fans in attendance at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. UFC President Dana White originally planned to hold the fight card as scheduled on April 18, but the event was postponed at the request of top ESPN executives who received pushback from lawmakers.
White and other UFC officials developed a safety plan that includes a reduced production crew composed of essential personnel who will wear masks and gloves. All participants, including fighters, were tested prior to check-in at the host hotel, had their temperatures taken and received coronavirus antibody tests.
“I have 350 employees and over 600 fighters who have families to take care of and depend on me,” White told FOX Business earlier this month regarding his efforts to restart UFC events. “You just can’t roll over and disappear when something bad happens. This is actually the time that those people need you more than when everything’s great, the world is normal, everybody’s making money and everything’s great.”
The production crew at UFC 249 will be less than half of its usual size, according to UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein. Participants were instructed to adhere to social distancing protocols whenever possible while on-site for the event and wear masks when in public. Fighters had their own individual workout areas at the host hotel and crew members will undergo medical screenings on a daily basis.
To ensure sanitary conditions in the Octagon, UFC plans to disinfect the mat between fights. Color commentator Joe Rogan will conduct his post-match interviews remotely, with fighters using sanitized headsets to communicate.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Epstein told the Associated Press. “We think we’ve put together a plan that’s really strong on the health and safety standpoints, that’s really the most important thing that we think about every day. We’re really hopeful that we’re going to be able to limit those opportunities (for infection), and if they happen, we’re going to isolate people and get them out of the overall operation so we don’t compromise anything.”
UFC 249 is the first of three events the mixed martial arts organization has scheduled over an eight-day period. All three events will take place on a closed set at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
“As we move step-by-step on the path toward economic recovery, we are proud to host these UFC events at the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena,” said Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. “The UFC organization is a renowned entertainment brand that’s presented a safe and sensible plan to use this Jacksonville location, and we are thrilled to have our city highlighted nationally on ESPN and ESPN+."
The UFC is among the first organizations to host a major live-action event since the pandemic forced U.S. sports leagues to shut down in mid-March. The NBA and MLB are in the process of developing plans to resume their seasons. The NFL released a full 2020 season schedule earlier this week, indicating that it plans to move forward without interruption.
At present, it’s unclear when UFC or other sports leagues will be able to hold events with fans in attendance again. White said enhanced, rapid COVID-19 testing would be a key requirement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.