U.F.C.’s Coronavirus Plan Is Careful. Its Enforcement Has Been Spotty

Written by on May 12, 2020

Minutes after defeating Tony Ferguson within the headline fight of U.F.C. 249 on Saturday evening, Justin Gaethje stood within the octagon and examined his bloodied fingers.

Gaethje, an influence puncher, was being interviewed by the tv analyst Joe Rogan, and he supplied some comprehensible gladiatorial bravado: “I informed my coaches within the again, ‘You’re not going to love it, however I’m able to die tonight.’” However at that second Gaethje’s thoughts was clearly on his fingers, and as Rogan went to shake one, Gaethje as an alternative supplied a fist bump.

Rogan was having none of it, saying “I don’t care” as he grabbed the hand.

“All proper, corona’s means worse, blood received’t kill you,” Gaethje responded with a smile.

And so went the largest sporting occasion in america in almost two months. The lengthy shadow of the coronavirus pandemic hung over the pay-per-view occasion, which was billed as an try and return blended martial arts to normalcy — and to inch the remainder of the sporting world in that course. However as stay-at-home orders swept throughout america, the Final Preventing Championship insisted that it could overcome the forces that had upended nearly all prime sporting leagues.

Within the week main as much as U.F.C. 249, the promotion firm’s officers spoke of a 25-page doc that laid out in depth well being and security protocols that the group would observe to make sure a secure occasion.

A overview of the steering within the doc — the U.F.C.’s “Jacksonville Occasion Operations Plan,” a duplicate of which was obtained by The New York Occasions — signifies that U.F.C. officers and fighters routinely deviated from the outlined procedures within the days main as much as U.F.C. 249 and on the evening of the pay-per-view occasion itself.

U.F.C. Jacksonville Occasion Operations Plan

The U.F.C.’s operations plan to carry three occasions in Jacksonville, Fla., throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The corporate stated it could make changes to the plan based mostly on U.F.C. 249. (PDF, 20 pages, 4.62 MB)

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In an announcement on Tuesday, the U.F.C. stated the plan “gives a street map for a prudent, secure, and accountable working atmosphere” as preventing resumes. It famous that the plan “shouldn’t be the sum complete of our protocols, which additionally contains Covid-19 antibody blood checks and antigen checks” and stated the U.F.C. could be “updating it often with key learnings from every occasion going ahead.”

The U.F.C. plans to carry two extra occasions this week at VyStar Veterans Memorial Enviornment, with 11 bouts on every battle card. All three occasions have been authorised by the Florida State Boxing Fee. Donald Muzzi, the chief ringside doctor for the fee at U.F.C. 249, didn’t reply to a request for remark.

On Saturday at U.F.C. 249, Gaethje and Rogan shouldn’t have touched, not to mention stood inside six toes of one another. There have been purported to be “no face-to-face ‘in-Octagon’ post-fight or backstage interviews,” in response to the plan; as an alternative interviews had been to be performed “by way of headset with U.F.C. interviewers or commentators who can be stationed in a separate Enviornment zone.”

PictureThe U.F.C. said ahead of the event that it would not permit interviews inside the octagon during U.F.C. 249.

Wrapping up the televised occasion, the analyst Daniel Cormier defined how Rogan had acquired permission to do interviews that violated social distancing tips. “You threw a match earlier than the present,” Cormier stated to Rogan. “That is insane. All people’s been examined, we’re all clear.”

A consultant for Rogan didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Credit score… UFC/ESPN+

That wasn’t the one a part of the operation’s plan that went unheeded at instances. The plan prohibits all “contact-based greetings” and stated that each one personnel “can be required to put on the face masks and gloves in reference to their job features,” an edict that Dana White, the U.F.C. president, repeatedly ignored.

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On Friday after the official weigh-ins, the fighter Ronaldo Souza participated in a stare-down along with his opponent, Uriah Corridor, and bumped fists with White. Seconds later, the fighter Michelle Waterson hugged White earlier than her stare-down and embrace of her opponent, Carla Esparza.

White believes that holding U.F.C. occasions might help present that it’s secure to finish stay-at-home orders and to renew holding public occasions. That perception, partially, seems to stem from his longtime friendship with President Trump — who, in response to White, was taking a look at U.F.C. 249 as a blueprint.

“His entire philosophy was: Let’s get sports activities again first, work out how to try this safely,” White told TMZ. “Then let’s begin determining how do you get folks again within the workplace? How do you get folks in cubicles? After which, how do you get youngsters again at school?”

Trump made a surprise appearance throughout U.F.C. 249 in a recorded greeting, congratulating White and connecting the bouts with the return of extra dwell competitors. “Get the sports activities leagues again, let’s play,” Trump stated. “You do the social distancing and no matter else it’s important to do, however we want sports activities. We wish our sports activities again.”

Credit score…Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC, by way of Getty Photos

Regardless of the constructive checks, White declared the event a success and on Monday stated different leagues and states had already reached out to him for info. Most main sports activities leagues, nonetheless, have steered that they’ll mandate lengthier quarantine durations than the U.F.C. has. Crew sports activities can even require extra personnel to correctly maintain an occasion — even with no followers current.

Most fighters, together with Souza, arrived on the U.F.C.’s host lodge in Jacksonville, Fla., on Wednesday and instantly acquired Covid-19 viral and speedy antibody checks. The viral take a look at utilized by the U.F.C. takes at the very least 24 hours to get outcomes, and it was not found that Souza had the virus till Friday.

A few of the required personnel arrived lower than 48 hours earlier than the occasion started. One choose didn’t arrive till Friday evening, in response to two folks conversant in the occasion who spoke on situation of anonymity, that means that, at finest, the results of his viral take a look at couldn’t have been acquired till the day of the fights.

Additionally, it’s unclear whether or not all people inside the world Saturday evening adopted the identical procedures. Enviornment staff, Florida State Boxing Fee workers members, antidoping directors and information media members had been current together with U.F.C. personnel. The occasion operations plan says that it doesn’t have in mind enviornment or fee staff, although it notes that some distributors must observe its tips.

Due to the virus’s two-week incubation period, it is not going to be obvious for some time whether or not any individuals who had been current Saturday evening may need contracted the coronavirus on the occasion.

Main American sports activities leagues, particularly in workforce sports activities, are confronting very totally different circumstances from these encountered by the U.F.C. They’ve a whole lot or hundreds of athletes and much more workers members. They play home-and-away schedules in two dozen states, every with totally different native authorities mandates. They’ve 500-page collective bargaining agreements with athletes that limit the phrases that commissioners can unilaterally impose. (U.F.C. fighters should not unionized.)

Credit score…UFC/ESPN+

The U.F.C. doesn’t have such issues. It has important monetary leverage over fighters, and public criticism of its well being and security plan may very well be muted as a result of members worry authorized penalties.

UF.C. 249 members — together with fighters, their cornermen and reporters who attended in individual — had been requested to signal a participation settlement earlier than the occasion. The settlement, a duplicate of which was obtained by The New York Occasions, stated fighters might lose their “purses, win bonuses, different fight-related bonuses and event-based merchandise royalties” in the event that they “counsel or talk” the occasion was held “with out applicable well being, security or different precautions.”

White said that solely unfaithful statements in regards to the U.F.C.’s well being and security procedures would violate the non-disparagement clause, and the U.F.C.’s authorized workforce assured members of the news media that they might not be prohibited from reporting on the occasion, however nothing within the settlement states both of these clarifications.

The M.M.A. Journalists Association, a gaggle of reporters and others who cowl the game, stated in an announcement that its members mustn’t signal the settlement even when it means skipping protection of future U.F.C. fights.

“A few of the restrictive language within the U.F.C.’s settlement might have a chilling impact on journalists, presumably limiting their skill to completely and precisely report the info,” the group stated in its assertion.

The U.F.C. stated that the participation settlement had been up to date for occasions going ahead and that it was “not supposed to stifle or in any other case silence anybody’s opinion so long as it’s based mostly on info.”


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