On paper, the UFC’s “UFC Jacksonville Events Operations Plan” is a sound document. The stated goal of the document is to “provide a prudent, safe and responsible working environment for the Jacksonville Events in compliance with Federal, state and local regulations and guidelines implemented to combat COVID-19.” Had the document, which the UFC’s medical staff developed along with other leading medical professionals, been followed to a T, the UFC might have been able to claim it provided a safe environment for all participants in Jacksonville. However, there were multiple breakdowns between what the UFC wrote in its plan and what happened at the first two UFC Jacksonville events.
Simply put, the UFC failed to stick to many parts of its plan.
The first item under the “Health and Safety Procedures” is “Social Distancing.” One item under the “Social Distancing” heading is, “Hand-shakes and other similar contact-based greetings, such as “high-fives, will be prohibited.” We saw UFC president Dana White break this rule throughout the weigh-ins for the first two Jacksonville events. UFC commentator Joe Rogan did the same when he conducted in-cage interviews during the UFC 249 event. Daniel Cormier also disobeyed this order when he conducted in-cage interviews during the UFC Fight Night: Smith vs. Teixeira card on Wednesday.
Another failure under the “Social Distancing” heading was the instruction for all personnel to remain on hotel premises until departure to the arena for the events. Video and social media posts showed some fighters and their camps leaving the hotel prior to UFC 249 for training or sightseeing purposes.
Under the “Advanced Screening Procedures” heading, the document indicates that daily temperature checks will take place. The temperature threshold for the UFC is “at or greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.” If a temperature check comes back at an elevated level, the document says, “the person will not be permitted to enter the Arena or remain on premises.” According to the N.Y. Times, the NBA is using a threshold of 99.1 degrees to “refuse admittance to practice facilities.” The 100.4 temperature limit the UFC is employing is in accordance with what the Centers for Disease Control considers a fever.
One of the more ignored rules for the event fell under “Protective Guidelines - Personal Protective Equipment.” That section included a directive that, “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.” We saw many instances of “on-camera” personnel without masks during the first two Jacksonville fight cards.
The PPE guidelines also specify that all personnel should use PPE during their travel to the event. We can see that Justin Gaethje did not follow this order when he stopped inside the Jacksonville airport to pose for a photo. Gaethje did not have a mask on for that photo opportunity, nor did he obey social distancing protocol. Video of this incident is part of Episode 3 of UFC 249 Embedded video.
The UFC plan specifies that no more than 199 people will be on hand for each of the Jacksonville events. That number takes into account 16 media members. The UFC‘s document says that is approximately half the number of personal the promotion usually uses to produce a standard UFC event.
The “Event Operations” section of the plan points out that no face-to-face interviews will take place inside the octagon. Joe Rogan ignored that mandate at UFC 249 and Daniel Cormier did the same at Wednesday’s Fight-Night card. Both commentators also shook hands with many of the fighters and avoided wearing masks.
On Saturday, Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier, who worked as the commentary team for UFC 249, opened the event by ignoring social distancing protocol while not wearing masks, “I don’t understand why we’re so far away from each other, but we’re so close right now. None of this makes any sense,” Rogan said according to the N.Y Times. The team on Wednesday’s post-fight show also ignored social distancing and were not wearing masks.
Another failure in this section was the placement of the commentators. The document says these individuals will not be seated at cage side, but they were for both cards. The one thing the three commentators did not do was share a table, which is the norm for a standard UFC event. The UFC included detailed arena maps which breakdown every location the promotion will use inside the arena for the Jacksonville events, the tables for the commentators are clearly marked and placed cageside for these events.
UFC president Dana White also failed when it came to social distancing and PPE. There were times on Wednesday when he was seen sitting cageside with two other people at his table. Only one of those three people wore a mask — it wasn’t White.
The enforcement of social distancing and personal protective equipment rules fell to UFC security personnel. It’s clear from various videos from the event that enforcement was not at 100 percent.
The UFC told the Times on Tuesday that the document will be updated “regularly with key learnings from each event going forward.”
After Saturday‘s UFC 249 fight card, White said, “The way that this week went will just get better. We’ll get better by Wednesday. Then, we’ll be better by Saturday. Then after Saturday, we’ll start to catch our stride and really get this thing dialed in and get it figured out. The longer this goes, the better the testing technology is going to get and the faster it will get. We’re going to prove by next Saturday that professional sports can come back safely.”
The UFC has many improvements to make regarding its health and safety procedures between now and its May 30 event.
*Bloody Elbow contacted the UFC to see if its “UFC Jacksonville Events Operations Plan” had been updated to reflect any changes. The promotion did not reply at time of publication.