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Editorial: What’s the story behind the positive COVID-19 tests at UFC Apex?

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The UFC needs to be transparent as to why the number of positive COVID-19 tests have increased inside the UFC “bubble”

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MMA: JUN 05 UFC 250 Weigh-In Photo by Diego Ribas/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In August, UFC president Dana White said of the promotion’s response to COVID-19, “I knew we would (have success) from day one. I knew that we’d be able to do this. I knew that we would spend the money and get the right people involved. I believe in my staff and obviously I believe in the fighters. I knew that we could do this and I knew we would. There’s a lot of mistakes that these other leagues have made and they could do it right if they wanted to, but I don’t know.”

Since August 1, the UFC has lost a dozen fights to positive COVID-19 tests. The past three fight cards have lost bouts on the day of the event. Saturday’s UFC Vegas 9 event saw two fights fall off the card hours before the event and one fight get a same day replacement. UFC Vegas 9 went on with just seven bouts in total.

During that same August interview, White opined, “You have to be in the bubble. It’s impossible to pull this thing off without a bubble. You have to do it.”

From outside the UFC “bubble,” it seems as if something is amiss.

The fights being scratched on the day of the event and the lack of transparency from the UFC in this matter are a concern.

If a fighter or a person in that fighter’s camp tests positive upon arrival to the UFC facility and that positive outcome is confirmed by another test, the fight should be scratched at that moment and the person who tested positive should be quarantined or travel elsewhere via car, as per Section V of the NSAC COVID-19 protocol.

Section V Positive Test: All personnel that test positive will be required to seek immediate primary care, self-quarantine in the state of Nevada for 14 days and shall not be allowed to travel by air until cleared. Solo car travel may be permitted by the individual testing positive if they do not live in the state of Nevada but under no circumstance may the positive personnel be allowed to travel by air until cleared by an NSAC physician and have tested negative for the PCR test. Should the person fail to comply with this directive, he or she shall not be permitted to enter a closed system or participate in any future events of unarmed combat in this State until such time as these protocols are no longer in force.

The UFC’s silence leads me — and perhaps others — to speculate that something nefarious could be happening inside the bubble. Are fighters or members of camps testing positive early in the week and is the UFC then just hoping that a test later in the week will come up negative and allow the fighter to compete? Are fighters and members of their camps arriving and testing negative only to test positive later in the week? Neither of those situations is ideal. And no one knows exactly what is happening inside the “bubble” because the UFC is not speaking.

I do not think I am being paranoid or negative for the sake of being negative — remember that White more or less admitted he ignored protocol when the UFC was in Jacksonville, Florida and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and his corners tested positive upon arrival. After Souza tested positive he was seen outside of quarantine and he also weighed-in after his initial positive test.

“We waited for the test results,” White told TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter on SportsCentre, when asked why Souza was not pulled sooner. White added, “Because I didn’t want to. It’s my show. I’ll do what I want to do. I didn’t want to. I wanted to wait for the test to come in.”

With the lack of transparency from the UFC, fans and media do not know if the protocol is being followed. Also, because of the lack of communication from the promotion, there is no way to know if onsite media, staff and other fighters on the UFC roster know if protocol is being followed. That is both a risk and a concern.

The UFC owes its fans, fighters, media members, event staff and other athletic commissions it plans on working with once events move out of Nevada, an explanation on what is happening inside the “bubble” that is causing these late cancelations. It also owes those parties a statement on how it is going to deal with the issue during upcoming events at the UFC Apex in Nevada.

Bloody Elbow reached out to UFC and Nevada State Athletic Commission for comment. Neither responded before publication.