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UFC enhances COVID-19 protocols in run up to Las Vegas event plans

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With an expected fight night card at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas this Saturday, the UFC has revised their COVID-19 protocols ahead of a planned Wednesday Nevada State Athletic Commission meeting.

UFC Fight Night: Overeem v Harris Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

With their push to be the first sport back in business during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC was always going to have to do some adjusting on the fly. The world’s largest MMA organization arrived in Jacksonville, Fl, with a 30-page plan for how they would hold a fight card while still enforcing as many safety precautions and as much social distancing as possible—along with running pre-event testing. And even if they didn’t follow all those guidelines, Dana White has been quick to herald their preventative measures as a resounding success.

Still, with hopes of running operations out of their Las Vegas based UFC Apex facility for the coming months, the promotion has released a memo to fighters and their camps outlining more stringent guidelines for future events. This coming just days ahead of a planned Nevada State Athletic Commission (NAC) meeting that will decide the immediate future of combat sports in the state. NAC officials are set to vote on protocols covering all combat sports that would allow major revenue generators like MMA and boxing to return to operation.

The details of the NAC’s expected protocols have not yet been released, but it would be surprising if they created any major hurdle to the UFC’s upcoming plans. MMA Junkie first reported news of the UFC’s coronavirus plan updates, since confirmed by MMA Fighting.

Along with announcing that the UFC Performance Institute would be closed to athletes during fight week, the principle points of the memo center around a new testing plan—and more stringent guidelines for social distancing and isolation surrounding testing. Fighters will now be immediately administered an oral swab test upon arriving at the “Athlete Hotel” and may not leave their accommodations or “have physical contact with anyone other than the members of [their] camp until [they] have received [their] test result.”

Upon receiving the results of that first oral swab test, fighters who came back negative for COVID-19 will be allowed to proceed with their normal fight week duties—while fighters who test positive will be required to remain isolated pending further instruction.

Short Version:

  • Fighters will be tested upon arrival at the athlete hotel, and remain isolated pending results.
  • Fighters will be tested a second time, after weigh ins, and remain isolated pending results.
  • Fighters and their teams must have NAC approval to leave the athlete hotel during periods of isolation.
  • Fighters and their teams must avoid physical contact with non-camp members during isolation.

The second major change to the UFC’s event plans will be another swab test (although it’s unclear from reports whether that will also be oral, or the nasal swab test used in Jacksonville) performed following weigh-ins the day before the event. After that test is performed, fighters will remain isolated with their own team at the athlete hotel, and may not leave the premises without authorization from not just the UFC, but the NAC as well.

Athletes will then be transported to the UFC Apex facility, and allowed to compete pending the results of the second test. If they test positive for COVID-19 they will be required to remain isolated until otherwise instructed by UFC medical staff.

It’s slightly unclear from the reports provided by Junkie & Fighting whether or not the UFC will actually be getting results back from the second set of tests before they transport athletes to the Apex facility. Taking fighters to the event space first seems like an entirely unnecessary risk, but it may be that the promotion doesn’t feel like they can be sure they’ll have results back in time to bring fighters over later in the day and still allow for proper preparation.

Many of these steps seem like they probably came about as a direct result of Jacare Souza’s positive test for the coronavirus during UFC 249 fight week. Souza was removed from the card and isolated before getting a chance to compete, but several fight week photos and videos showed him wearing a mask, but still mingling among other fighters and staff in the lead up t the event. Hopefully these new steps mitigate that risk. If not, fighters will likely see more memos and more stringent protocols down the line.