Never give up: How UFC's 'can-do' attitude means they're ready to bounce back with a vengeance, despite coronavirus - OPINION
Say what you want about UFC president Dana White, but the man simply never knows when he's beaten.
It should be of little surprise to those who have followed the history of the world's biggest MMA organization, The Ultimate Fighting Championship – more commonly known as the UFC – that White's determination to press forward with plans to host live fights has remained undimmed despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Some have called his attitude cavalier. Others have suggested it's reckless. But while he has received plenty of criticism – some of it justified – for his bullish approach to hosting events in the current climate, some, including many of his fighters and their respective managers, are lauding the UFC president for trying to give them the chance to do what they love – fight.
Less than one week removed from the UFC's enforced climbdown over UFC 249 on April 18, which had been set to go ahead on tribal land at the Tachi Palace Casino near Fresno, California, the UFC announced it is bouncing back with a fight card on May 9 at a location to be announced at a later date.
And boy, what a card it is:
- Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje (for interim lightweight title
- Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz (for bantamweight title)
- Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer (for women's featherweight title)
- Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
- Calvin Kattar vs. Jeremy Stephens
- Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis
- Yorgan De Castro vs. Greg Hardy
- Aleksei Oleinik vs. Fabricio Werdum
- Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson
- Uriah Hall vs. Ronaldo Souza
- Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price
- Bryce Mitchell vs. Charles Rosa
All 12 of the fights – including three title fights – listed above are reportedly in the works for the event, which would deliver a huge show, wherever it ends up taking place.Also on rt.com Back in business? Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje targeted for UFC's return to action on May 9
To be able to pivot to a new event, in a new location, with a fight card of this level of quality, is pretty remarkable and shows just how agile the UFC is as a sports organization. Indeed, I've seen it first hand.
I've been on the ground at events where things have fallen apart at the seams during a fight week, yet the UFC and their tireless staff have rebounded in a matter of hours.
At UFC 200, we saw the main event fall through when news of Jon Jones' failed drug test rocked fight week in Las Vegas ahead of his scheduled rematch with Daniel Cormier. We then saw the main event changed not once, but TWICE, as eventually Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate headlined the historic card back in the summer of 2016. Even Cormier stayed on the card and eventually took on former middleweight champion Anderson Silva in a bout cobbled together in a matter of hours.
On a somewhat smaller scale, the UFC's event in Dublin suffered similar fight-week woes in October 2015 when the scheduled main event bout between Ireland's Joseph Duffy and America's Dustin Poirier fell apart just three days from the fight when Duffy sustained a concussion in a fight week sparring session.
I remember talking to a disconsolate Poirier in the host hotel just moments after he had learned the news, and also vividly recall my sit-down chat with a devastated Duffy, who missed out on the biggest opportunity of his fighting career. For both men, a huge opportunity had been lost after weeks of intense preparation. But it was the same for the UFC themselves, who plan and arrange all the infrastructure around their events months in advance.
On both occasions, the UFC not only kept the shows intact, they were able to rebrand their events, promote them effectively and run successful shows on fight night.
That agility as a company is being tested to the limit once again during this coronavirus crisis and, once again, it seems the UFC is producing the goods.
The debate over hosting events in the current climate has been discussed and debated at length and, of course, it remains absolutely vital that any return of sporting events is conducted and managed with the utmost caution to avoid not just the spread of the virus, but also unnecessary stress on an already strained healthcare industry.
But the goalposts may be about to move. The state of Florida recently declared professional wrestling organization the WWE an "essential business" in the state, giving the promotion the green light to host shows, albeit behind closed doors in controlled environments. And with United States President Donald Trump calling together the bosses of America's major sporting leagues and organizations, including the WWE's Vince McMahon and the UFC's White, it seems the US government's plan to help start a recovery will be largely sports-led.
That may help on two fronts, as it may help buy time for an extended shutdown period, with fans at least able to follow live sports again. The hope is that it may also start to stimulate economic growth as other restrictions are gradually eased.
But with things opening up for the WWE in Florida, and with Trump clearly earmarking sport as one of his priorities to return, that may mean the likes of the UFC are afforded the opportunity to get things back up and running again in some shape or form.
Could the UFC host an event in Florida under similar circumstances to the WWE? Or could restrictions for the UFC be eased in their home state of Nevada, where the promotion could leverage the number of empty hotel rooms in the city – some of which are owned by former UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta – to help house and incubate fighters, then ferry them to and from their purpose-built APEX facility, where they could then fight in live behind-closed-doors events? It certainly doesn't seem impossible, and if they're given the latitude to try, you can bet the UFC will make a success of it.
Given their track record of coping with unexpected change, there's arguably no organization better prepared to answer the call than the UFC, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see regular UFC shows returning to our screens long before the rest of us are free of the coronavirus lockdown.
By Simon Head.Also on rt.com WWE deemed 'essential business' in Florida, will continue to operate live shows despite coronavirus lockdown