It wasn’t boxing but it was fighting and last night in Jacksonville, Florida, for the first time in America since the coronavirus enforced the current lockdown conditions and with it a complete suspension of all live sporting events, a big card went ahead. It was UFC 249 and the show, bereft of attending fans, had everyone from Mike Tyson to the President of the United States tuning in for the pay-per-view.
Strict rules were put in place – multiple temperature checks, an antibody test, a nasal swab test, the Octagon sprayed with disinfectant between bouts, masks worn by officials in attendance (although some did not wear a mask; the referees and ring announcer Michael Buffer for example – this drawing criticism from some). The world was watching to see if other sports can follow Dana White’s lead; if they can also get their show back on the road.
Last night’s card was an exciting one, with Justin Gaethje stopping Tony Ferguson in round five to take the interim lightweight title in the main event. Up at heavyweight, Francis Ngannou scored a devastating 20 second KO over Jairzino Rozenstruik to earn a shot at the title. Mike Tyson was one of those people who was hugely impressed by what he saw from the power-puncher from Cameroon:
“Resounding….vicious….future champ. Francis Ngannou 20 second knockout 2nite,” Tyson wrote on twitter.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump congratulated UFC boss White for “restarting sports:”
“I want to congratulate Dana White and the UFC,” Trump said in a video message that was broadcast inside the arena last night in Jacksonville. “They’re going to have a big match. We love it. We think it’s important. Get the sports leagues back. Let’s play. Do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do. We need sports. We want our sports back. Congratulations to Dana White and UFC.”
So can boxing follow suit? Should it? The fact that last night’s UFC card went ahead did not please everyone – Bob Arum for example, who has long been a critic of White; ramping up his negativity towards the UFC boss due to what he sees as “irresponsible” actions during these unprecedented times. Needless to say, Arum did not watch last night’s UFC 249.
But Arum is aiming to bring Top Rank boxing shows back later this summer. We’ll see then how differently Arum and his team does things in comparison to how White and his crew got it done last night.
For now, though, live combat sport is back up and running. There are further shows planned for May 13 and May 16, at the same venue in Jacksonville.