The UFC is scheduled to hold an event this Saturday, but the venue and the main event aren’t known, as the coronavirus pandemic has shut down most sporting events throughout the world.
What is known is that Las Vegas, the world capital of fighting, is off limits, with the state of Nevada banning athletic events until at least March 25.
California is banning sporting events until at least March 31.
UFC president Dana White said Saturday on SportsCenter that the fights will go on.
But where? And with whom?
Here is what we know for now, and this file will be updated as the fluid situation continues to develop.
What do we know about this weekend’s card and cards in the near future?
After the UFC was forced to cancel the March 21 card in London and move it to a yet-to-be-determined location in the United States, Edwards opted not to fly to America. With no guarantee where the event would take place, no guarantee that he’d be able to get a return flight and with some of his cornermen not having the proper documentation to fly at this time, the call was made for Edwards to stay home.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 15, 2020
Colby Covington said Monday that he wants to fill in to fight Woodley, but nothing is finalized yet.
“Right now, it’s still being discussed,” Covington told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani during an Instagram Live chat. “As far as I know, Tyron Woodley might have said yes. I think so. I know he’s ducked me a lot in the past. But I think he’s said yes and he’s on board.”
Woodley said Sunday he was supposed to fight Covington before being booked against Edwards.
“He put all this s— on the internet about him wanting to fight me, and I said ‘yes’ immediately,” Woodley said on an Instagram post. “That’s the fight that made the most sense anyway. That’s the fight I was supposed to get before Leon Edwards and they said [Covington] couldn’t fight because of his jaw [which he injured on Dec. 14 in a loss to Kamaru Usman]. The second they booked the fight with me and Leon, now all of a sudden his jaw is healthy and he could fight.
“He declined me four times, so I don’t even want to talk about Colby. … Colby Covington is my No. 1 choice, my No. 1 choice. If I could fight him, Lord, there is a heaven above.”
Gilbert Burns said he also was offered the bout but claimed Woodley backed out.
Dana White says the Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov fight will go on, but he’s not positive where, as some states — such as Nevada and California — are banning athletic competition, while others continue to restrict crowd sizes as precautionary measures against the coronavirus pandemic.
The bout was scheduled for April 18 in Brooklyn, but New York has declared a state of emergency, banning crowds of more than 50.
How do fighters feel about competing while other sports have shut down?
Fighters initially applauded the UFC’s decision to keep holding the events.
The reaction on social media to Saturday’s card in an empty arena in Brasilia, Brazil, for instance, was positive.
— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) March 14, 2020
Some fighters are concerned about the physical ramifications of fighting during this pandemic, while others are concerned about the monetary aspects. They need fights to pay bills.
“This is how we make money,” Cody Stamann said. “If you don’t fight, you don’t get paid — that’s the deal.
“I think the UFC is trying to do their best by us, the best by everyone.”
UFC middleweight Eric Spicely, who is scheduled to fight on the March 28 Columbus card, which no longer has a location, said he’s worried about the uncertainty of the next few weeks, as well as his health — especially during a weight cut.
“I’m pretty concerned with this,” he said. “We’re all cutting weight. I’m starting to cut now. I’m eating a lot less. I just went to the doctor to get a physical and she’s like, ‘You have some fluid behind your ears. You might be getting a cold.’ I just had a mild staph infection on my foot that I just got over. I don’t know, man.
“It almost seems like it’s not worth it. Everyone else is canceling events. And I’m not really interested in fighting in front of no fans. It’s not gonna feel like a fight. There’s no energy. I want to get paid, so I’m gonna have to, obviously. I have no choice. But that’s gonna be weird as hell.”
How are gyms responding to the pandemic?
Some gyms closed over the weekend, but for the most part, the key is emphasizing good precautionary habits.
Kevin Holland, who fights out of Travis Lutter BJJ in Fort Worth, Texas: “The whole gym is using precautions. Of course we clean the mats every day, clean the mats before every practice. We’ve got hand sanitizer all over the gym. Taking showers before we leave the gym. I think we got some new sanitizer in there that’s supposed to be A-grade medical type of stuff. People work at the hospital and bring some stuff through the gym. I think it’s probably one of the cleanest spots. Definitely cleaner than my house right now, that’s for sure.”
Ray Longo, head coach of LAW MMA in Garden City, New York: “[We] closed the gym for the weekend to see where we’re at. We’re really just trying to be proactive. The gyms are really bad for passing along crap. Maybe even worse than the train, because you’re really on top of people, especially jiu-jitsu. Everybody is gonna follow suit, trust me. We talked about it. You look around, there’s probably people who were in the gym already who have it. It’s like a numbers game. I’m not even that guy and I’m cleaning my hands every 20 minutes.
“I think it’s gonna be fine, but I think they needed to take the steps they did even though it’s drastic. I closed the gym down, but we have fighters who still have fights. For the people who have fights coming up, look, we’re just limited. Instead of having 80 people in here, we’ll have three. That’s a big difference. We’re really being diligent with cleaning all the dumbbells and handles.”
“We hired a second cleaning person, so we have someone in the gym cleaning almost at all times.”
John Crouch, head coach of MMA Lab
Sayif Saud, head coach of Fortis MMA in Dallas (from Instagram): “We decided to close the gym down until March 23. We want to be proactive to prevent any spreading of the virus in our community and throughout our membership. We will be deep cleaning the gym tomorrow and Sunday. We will be assessing the situation daily. If at anytime within the next 10 days we see a positive shift and feel we can reopen safely for our members we will do so. We are hopeful that we will have a good grasp on where things are within ten days.
“I will be communicating any and all changes as soon as they happen. Until then please use every precaution available to you and stay healthy. We will not be reactive to this situation. Let’s do the right thing now and get ahead of it. Compromising our members’ health and wellness is not an option.”
Dan Lambert, owner of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida: “We are always very diligent about keeping the gym clean and telling sick fighters to stay home. We have obviously stepped that up to another level. Months ago, we stopped allowing fighters and training partners to come in from different countries that are at high risk. We are obviously not the type of place that can allow its employees to work from home on their laptops, so we are still grinding. On Saturday, we made the decision to close the gym to everyone except for pro fighters and coaches. Fighters need to be there. Regular members don’t.”
John Crouch, head coach of MMA Lab: “We’re doing everything we can to keep everyone healthy and most importantly make everyone feel safe. We’re not just a gym for fighters, we have regular members too. Any member who feels uncomfortable, they can come to us and we’ll suspend their membership.
“We hired a second cleaning person, so we have someone in the gym cleaning almost at all times. There are wipes by every machine and we’re advising people to use them before and after they work out. We’re telling all the fighters to shower before training and then shower again before they leave the gym — shower in and shower out. We’re asking everyone to keep their gear clean too. If anyone is feeling sick, we’re asking them not to come in. Everyone is being told to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough.”
— Marc Raimondi
Ringside physicians president: Test everyone
Association of Ringside Physicians (APR) president Dr. Donald Muzzi said the group’s official position when it comes to combat sports is to follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. On Sunday, the CDC recommended canceling all events of more than 50 people in the United States for eight weeks. With the UFC wanting to continue pressing forward with events, Muzzi said his advice would be to put things on hold for the time being.
If the promotion wants to keep holding cards, everyone in those venues should be tested for coronavirus.
“They absolutely should be testing everybody,” Muzzi told ESPN. “But I would advise them not to have a fight. This can wait. … We have to do the best we can to attenuate the acceleration of this disease process and diminish the amount of people that are acutely effective. We have to hold off for eight weeks and see what happens. Hopefully, this passes.”
The ARP is the group that provides education, training and certification to ringside doctors for combat sports worldwide. But it has no authority over individual members when it comes to who works what events. If fights do go on, athletes will be cutting weight.
— Dan Hangman Hooker (@danthehangman) February 23, 2020
Muzzi said an excessive weight cut puts “stress on the immune system, which makes you more susceptible to infection.”
Another consideration is post-fight hospital visits. Fighters routinely get transported to a local emergency room after hard fights for even precautionary reasons, not to mention broken bones or other injuries suffered in the bout. That would not be advisable in the current climate, when hospitals could be backed up with COVID-19 patients.
“The last thing you want to do is go to an ER right now for a cut,” Muzzi said. “A guy goes in let’s say for a cut or a shoulder injury or something, he’s gonna get put on the back burner. Because they’ve got much more important things to worry about. Another thing, that’s another chance for exposure from an ER that has potential patients with that virus.”
— Marc Raimondi