Dana White & Florida governor proclaim ‘OASIS OF FREEDOM’ as UFC returns for full house for FIRST TIME since pandemic struck
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has welcomed UFC 261 fans to an "oasis of freedom" as the MMA organization's supremo Dana White also remarked on holding a capacity crowd event during the pandemic.
Comments were made by the pair at the last pre-fight press conference on Thursday, ahead of the stacked card's realization at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville where facemasks will be optional.
On Saturday evening, 15,000 punters will enjoy a championship triple-header headlined by local favorite Jorge Masvidal taking on welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, in what is being touted as a crowning achievement for White.
"When this whole Covid thing started, I told you we would be first. I told you we would get through this," he reminded reporters, MMA Junkie reported.
"But to do that, we had to have a place to go. Florida was the leader in getting things open [and] bringing back sports. These guys have been very good to us and we couldn’t have gotten it done without the state," White explained.
"It’s funny, because there’s been a lot of monumental moments in my career – and this is one of them.
"Saturday night’s a big night, not only for all the fighters up here and for the UFC and the sport, but I think for sports in general.
"We showed in the beginning of the pandemic that this could be done safely and this could be done the right way, and now we’re going to show that we can do it in closed venues and it can be done safely,” he concluded.
As Florida allowed White's company to put on shows in empty arenas at the start of the pandemic, White revealed that he felt obliged to "repay" the Sunshine State and its authorities with the weekend's spectacle, which hasn't gone unnoticed by DeSantis.
"This is going to be the first full-throttle sporting event since Covid hit, indoor, anywhere in the United States," the governor said.
"I think it’s fitting. We wanted to be safe, but there’s a lot of stuff that comes at you from media, from social media, all this stuff. Some people don’t like to handle that. Dana White goes right into the teeth of that," he insisted.
"Welcome to Florida. You guys aren’t the only ones looking to come to this oasis of freedom," DeSantis signed off.
Even though just a portion of the crowd that will be let into the arena were present at the presser, they could still be heard giving support to Masvidal and booing his rival Usman.
"You can hear it yourself and see it yourself,” Masvidal commented.
"These guys want violence, and let me tell you: They don’t cheer for me because I’m so good looking or the food that I eat or nothing. They cheer for me because I give everybody their hard-earned money.
"I come in here to perform and give the violence that they crave. That’s the reason I have all these behind me. I fight for them."
"They can’t fight for you," Usman warned his foe, before admitting that wasn't surprised by the reaction he received.
"I like it. I’m just glad to have the fans back. I like it whether they boo, whether they cheer. Look at the [Colby] Covington fight. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m a professional, so I go in and do my job each and every time," the Nigerian Nightmare stressed.
"I don’t need them to fight for me," Masvidal chirped back. "I’m going to whoop your ass all by myself," he vowed.Also on rt.com Masvidal vows to ‘break Usman’s bones’, issues ‘throat-slit’ gesture as welterweights prepare for UFC 261 headliner
Florida has a far more policy on Covid restrictions than elsewhere in the US, and DeSantis has prohibited municipalities from fining people who refuse to wear masks.
“While so many other states kept locking people down over these many months, Florida lifted people up,” DeSantis said in his State of the State address earlier this year.
Back in February, around 25,000 fans were in attendance when the Super Bowl took place at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry said hosting UFC 261 with fans would "continue to demonstrate that Florida is poised to safely host signature sporting events watched globally."