The UFC’s COVID-19 safety and health plan has been updated in at least one respect heading into this weekend’s card, which is headlined by a welterweight matchup between former champion Tyron Woodley and Gilbert Burns.
The UFC held three fight cards in Jacksonville, Florida between May 9 and May 16. The promotion performed COVID-19 testing on those who participated at those events upon check-in at the fighter hotel. The testing found one fighter, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and two members of Souza’s team were positive for COVID-19 after that round of testing. The second round of testing — which was reportedly only administered to the fighters — took place after weigh-ins on Friday. The UFC did not comment on the results of those tests. The results of the first set of tests, according to ESPN, did not come back until close to 48 hours after the tests were administered.
After the first event, UFC president Dana White said, “The way that this week went will just get better,” White said at the UFC 249 post-fight press conference. “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.”
There were no reports from the Jacksonville events that the UFC changed any of its testing protocol between the May 9 and May 16 events. In two features, Bloody Elbow found there were gaps in the UFC’s written protocol and multiple issues with enforcing the protocol as the UFC wrote it.
The UFC seems to be working toward closing some of those gaps ahead of its Wednesday meeting with the Nevada Athletic Commission where it will look to get approval to hold Saturday’s event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. MMA Junkie first reported news of the UFC’s coronavirus plan updates. MMA Fighting later confirmed the revisions.
The updated guidelines include a more detailed testing protocol along with stricter isolation procedures.
According to MMA Fighting:
Upon arrival at the host hotel, athletes and their cornermen will be required to take a COVID-19 antigen oropharyngeal swab test. After the test is administered, fighters and their teams will be required to self-isolate inside the host hotel until results have been received.
The athletes and their teams are not allowed to leave the host hotel or have physical contact with anyone else until the test results are returned.
Fighters and their teams will be allowed to resume with normal fight week activities once a test result comes back negative. A positive test will require that the fighter and their teams remain in their hotel rooms while awaiting instructions from the UFC’s medical team.
A second COVID-19 swab test will be required at the host hotel on Friday, May 19 following the weigh-ins. The same rules apply with fighters then told to self-isolate in the host hotel where they will remain overnight until transportation arrives to take them to the UFC Apex facility.
No athletes or their coaches will be allowed to leave the host hotel without prior approval from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Fighters are also instructed not to have physical contact with anyone outside of their team.
If the test results come back negative, fighters can move forward with the event. A positive test will force the athletes back into isolation while awaiting instructions from the UFC’s medical team.
On paper, the update seems as if it will do a good job of reducing interaction between individuals inside the fighter hotel while the COVID-19 tests results are unknown. That is something that fell through the cracks in Jacksonville as social media and UFC video posts showed people interacting inside the hotel and some fighters and their camps leaving the hotel before test results came back.
Another problem with the tests in Jacksonville was turnaround time. Those test results apparently took close to 48 hours to come back. If that remains the case for this weekend that will limit fighter training and preparation inside the fighter hotel, it will also mean the results of the second test will not come back until after fight night — which is a concern.
Where the Jacksonville document said all “participants” for these events would be tested, these updates indicate only fighters and their teams will be tested. That’s something that needs to be cleared up. If untested individuals are in the fighter hotel, the chance of infection increases.
The biggest concern about this plan is enforcement. That is where the UFC dropped the ball in Jacksonville. There was not a great deal of enforcement. These updates do not include any mention of enforcement. Any written plan can be rock-solid on paper, but without enforcement there is a good chance that plan could fail in some way. The UFC needs to define the parties who are responsible to enforce the plan and what repercussions those who do not follow the plan will face. If there are no consequences for not adhering to the plan, there is a chance the plan will not be followed.
Like the Jacksonville plan, the updates omit any post-fight protocol. That is another gap that needs to be addressed by the UFC. Ideally, the participants would get instructions for personal protective equipment for their travel home. They would also be instructed to self isolate for a documented amount of time and then given another COVID-19 test at the UFC’s expense. Without that part of the plan, the UFC comes across as only being interested in making sure the fights go off without a hitch.
In the future, it would also be a good idea for all participants to get COVID-19 tests prior to travel to the fight destination.
These updates are a step in the right direction, but there are still improvements to make.
Bloody Elbow reached out to the UFC for clarification on the testing protocol prior to publication, but did not receive a response.