UFC was back in action Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida- with fewer than 150 people in the arena and no fans in the seats. The event featured an extensive health and testing protocol outlined in a 25-page plan, according to Bloomberg, that may set guidelines for other sports looking to return to action. One of the 24 fighters, Ronaldo Souza, tested positive for COVID-19 the day before the fight, causing his bout to be canceled, but all others went on as planned.
President Trump expressed support for the event in a taped message that was aired by ESPN. “Get the sports leagues back. Let’s play. Do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do. We need sports. We want our sports back. Congratulations to Dana White and UFC,” he said.
UFC has more incentive to return than simply giving the country a boost in morale. The company’s contract with ESPN requires 42 events in order to collect $500 million in fees, amounting to 70% of UFC’s revenue. Partial owner Endeavor is also looking for cash as it seeks to raise $250 million to offset losses during the pandemic. UFC, meanwhile, would rather have attention focused inside the octagon and away from a $5 billion lawsuit alleging abuse of monopoly power to hold down fighters’ pay.