The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major sports leagues in the US to close up shop for the foreseeable future. The results are feared to be catastrophic, as analysts predict at least $12 billion in lost revenue if the shutdown continues throughout the latter part of the year.
The UFC and its president Dana White, however, are making an exception. This weekend, the mixed martial arts promotion giant will be back up and running with UFC 249, it’s third pay-per-view event for the year. And like how they did with their Brasilia event in mid-March, Saturday’s fight card will be devoid of the frenzied audience that have been an integral part of UFC events.
White never really saw the point in pausing operations like how the other sports leagues and fellow MMA promotions did. As for their reason for doing so, he feels the “pressure” from the media played a huge role.
“A lot of them are justified, but a lot of them were caving to the media [in closing down]. They didn’t want any bad press,” White told Sports Illustrated. “You’re telling me people couldn’t go out and golf with no crowds? C’mon. That’s ridiculous. They caved to the media pressure.
“People couldn’t race cars? Maybe there’s more to car racing than I understand? Are there too many people together in the pit? But I imagine they could’ve raced cars, too, with no crowd.
“I’ve been through stuff that other sports organizations haven’t,” he added. “So, I think it was easier for me to keep battling to put on an event. All these other organizations, they crumble as soon as there’s any type of negativity.”
As for the absence of the massive crowd, White initially thought of solutions to replicate it, but eventually decided to make do with what he has at the moment.
“I thought about pumping in crowd noise,” he revealed. “What if we did, like, a virtual crowd? I thought of all that s---. Then I’m like: Eh, stop it. It would lose some authenticity. I don’t want it to be like one of those old sitcoms, with a laugh track.
“It’s definitely going to be weird (without a crowd),” he continued. “The reaction and the noise when guys walk in and the fans are all over them—it’s one of the coolest things about the sport. But it’s something we’re gonna have to live without for a minute, until we get this thing figured out.”
UFC 249 is headlined by an interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. It takes place at the VyStar Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.