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Updated UFC COVID-19 protocol falls short of addressing all concerns

The UFC travel protocol does not address UFC employees and support staff - that’s an issue.

UFC Fight Night: Smith v Clark Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

With the final UFC fight card of 2020 on the horizon, the promotion is tightening its COVID-19 protocol.

In an email the UFC sent to fighters and their teams, which was obtained by Bloody Elbow’s Alex Scaffidi, the UFC briefly detailed the policy that will be in place for travel in and out of the fighter hotel for UFC Vegas 17, which is headlined by a welterweight bout between Stephen Thompson and Geoff Neal.

“To ensure the integrity of UFC’s [COVID-19] testing and quarantine protocols, no athlete or corner will be permitted to use any vehicle not officially approved or arranged by UFC once the athlete or corner has checked in for Fight Week,” the notice states. “This includes personally owned vehicles, rental vehicles, a friend’s vehicle, or ride share vehicles, such as Uber or Lyft.

“This policy applies to ALL athletes and corners, including those based in Las Vegas, as well as those based outside of Las Vegas.

“In addition, any athlete or corner who leaves the hotel property without coordinating with UFC Event Operations, including post fight, will not be allowed back into the hotel.

“If an athlete or corner needs transportation for any reason during Fight Week, including to go to the market, the UFC Performance Institute, or UFC APEX, they must call [name redacted] with UFC Event Operations.

“Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”

Following Saturday’s event, the UFC will be off until January 16. The location of the January fight cards has not yet been revealed. The Nevada State Athletic Commission approved the events for UFC Apex in a recent meeting. The UFC could also hold upcoming events in Abu Dhabi; which did not have any announced issues with COVID-19 during UFC events earlier in 2020.

Two fights fell off the recent UFC 256 fight card because of positive COVID-19 tests. Angela Hill was forced from her matchup against Tecia Torres and Karl Roberson was pulled from his fight opposite Dalcha Lungiambula.

Torres fought a replacement opponent at UFC 256. She scored a first-round TKO win over Sam Hughes. After the event, Torres said she noticed a difference in the UFC’s COVID-19 protocol from when she faced Brianna Van Buren at UFC Apex in June.

“Last time we were actually able to take an Uber somewhere if we needed to go to Whole Foods and such,” said Torres. “This time we couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t take an Uber to Whole Foods. Last time my mom came to town and I was able to go out and speak to her after my fight. This time, if you go out of the hotel, you have to stay out.”

This sounds like a positive, but with Saturday’s UFC Vegas 17 being the last UFC event of 2020, one has to ask, what took so long and why such a small step? This change is especially galling since as far back as August, UFC president Dana White said sporting events needed strict controls during the pandemic — strict controls the UFC never fully instituted or practiced — at least not in America.

“You have to be in the bubble,” White said. “It’s impossible to pull this thing off without a bubble. You have to do it.”

The protocol is only strong if everyone follows it. It only takes one case of COVID-19 to start the spread of the virus and if the UFC allows anyone in or out of the fighter hotel, the chances of infection are more than zero. In short, without full compliance, the change in the UFC protocol seems as if it is for show more than it is for health and safety.

In the first and perhaps only iteration of the UFC protocol, which was in place for the May events in Jacksonville, the document states, “If the person satisfies the above screening and testing procedures to the extent required by UFC medical staff, the person will be issued a special wristband that must be worn and visible at all times. All personnel will be instructed not to leave the premises after completion of the screening and testing procedures (other than as required for the Jacksonville Events).”

Adherence to the UFC’s own protocol did not last through the Jacksonville events as video and social media posts showed some fighters and their camps leaving the hotel prior to UFC 249 for training or sightseeing purposes. That video proof also existed for the recent UFC 255 pay-per-view.

Another part of the protocol that UFC president Dana White has never followed is, “All personnel (including personnel in certain “on -camera roles, such as cutmen and cornermen) will be required to wear the face masks and gloves in connection with their job functions, including at the host hotel and at the Arena. ”

With adherence to a policy the UFC wrote not making it through a single event, it’s not a surprise to learn there have been failures. No one should expect the update to provide a significant fix either, at least as it is written.

One thing that is absent from the email above is reference to UFC employees and Nevada State Athletic Commission staff and any support staff for the event. The travel in and out of the fighter hotel is specific to fighters and their camps. If the UFC permits other individuals to come and go from the fighter hotel or the UFC Apex as they please, that creates a danger to everyone.

The protocol is only strong if everyone follows it. It only takes one case of COVID-19 to start the spread of the virus and if the UFC allows anyone in or out of the fighter hotel, the chances of infection are more than zero. In short, without full compliance, the change in the UFC protocol seems as if it is for show more than it is for health and safety.

**Bloody Elbow reached out to the UFC for an updated version of the UFC COVID-19 protocol and asked if there was any protocol that specifically addressed UFC employees and UFC support staff. The UFC did not respond before publication.