At a press conference after a pay-per-view card, Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, usually walks to the dais holding a sheet of paper and reads the event's attendance and ticket revenue.
But U.F.C. 249 in Jacksonville, Florida, Saturday night was not a normal fight card. It landed there after the coronavirus pandemic forced a postponement and a change of location. Along the way, the U.F.C. had to replace one of the fighters in the main event. And the fight card, North America's first major professional sports competition since mid-March, took place without spectators, who were barred from the arena under guidelines designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Still, after Justin Gaethje defeated Tony Ferguson To win the interim lightweight belt, White appeared at the post-fight press conference, as usual, with the stats sheet in hand.
“The gate was zero. The participation was zero ”, he said. "This is the first time."
But despite the success in ticket revenue, White left Saturday's event upbeat about the short-term future. has two more events scheduled for Jacksonville this week, Wednesday and Saturday, and White is seeking authorization from the Nevada Athletic Commission to host fights on May 23 at the U.F.C. Apex Center. in Las Vegas. He held Saturday's event as proof according to the correct guidelines, professional sporting events can proceed safely.
"We can share what we have learned here, holding three events, with other sports leagues, that are coming up to us and asking," White said at a news conference.
In late April, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the leading infectious disease specialist in the United States, said in an interview with The New York Times that widespread testing with fast and reliable results would be needed if sports leagues restarted their stations safely.
After Friday morning weigh-ins, heavyweight Ronaldo Souza, a Brazilian fighter nicknamed Jacaré, tested positive for the coronavirus, the only positive test among the 24 fighters who were scheduled to compete. Two months ago, the Utah Jazz Center positive test, Rudy Gobert, led N.B.A. for suspend your seasonand stimulated other leagues to follow suit. But on Saturday, the U.F.C. he simply canceled Souza's fight with Uriah Hall and proceeded with the event.
White later admitted that by spreading 1,200 Covid-19 exhibits to 300 employees, such as combatants, officers, judges, corner men, broadcast staff, ESPN staff and ring staff, such as the U.F.C. Last week, some positive tests were unavoidable. But he said the experiment with Souza, which was first tested on Wednesday, with a positive result on Friday, proved that the security measures were working as planned.
"The system worked," said White.
Souza's withdrawal was the second change in the U.F.C. Card 249. Initially, Ferguson was scheduled to face lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov on April 18 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But in late March, when the coronavirus spread in New York City, the New York State Athletic Commission determined that the U.F.C. 249 could not occur in the state.
Until then, the U.F.C. was exploring alternative locations, but a plan to host the struggles in tribal land in California collapsed when high levels of leadership at Disney and ESPN, the U.F.C. broadcast partner, begged White to postpone the card. As the search for a new date and location continued, Nurmagomedov returned to Russia, his homeland, and was abandoned by travel restrictions related to pandemics.
At the time the U.F.C. confirmed Jacksonville as U.F.C. Gaethje, host of 249, replaced Nurmagomedov in the main event. Gaethje, a former Arizona high school fighter, won a disturbing victory over Ferguson, a relentless veteran who won his last 12 fights.
By the opening horn, Gaethje passed Ferguson. Gaethje hit his right hands and left hooks so hard that, between rounds, his singers asked him to decrease his strength to improve his accuracy and protect himself against early fatigue. In the final seconds of the second round, Ferguson landed an uppercut that rocked Gaethje, but the horn sounded before he could keep up.
Thereafter, Gaethje continued his attack, bleeding Ferguson's face in the third round and placing a debilitating leg on his thigh in the fourth.
With 90 seconds remaining in the final round, Gaethje landed a hard punch that made Ferguson pass out. When he entered a follow-up barrage, the referee, Herb Dean, stopped the fight.
"I put myself in a position to be here," said Gaethje. "And I took advantage of that."
For his part, Ferguson said that the exchange of opponents hampered his preparation. He told interviewer Joe Rogan that he had been training since November to face Nurmagomedov, a wrestling expert, and had only a few weeks to plan Gaethje, who wins fights with power punches.
"We prepare for Khabib, not much for an attacker," said Ferguson, adding, "What can you do?"
The defeat brings down Ferguson in front of a long line of competitors trying to face either of the two biggest draws in the light division – Nurmagomedov or the popular Conor McGregor. Ferguson and Nurmagomedov were scheduled to fight five times, with each fight canceled for reasons ranging from weird injuries to a pandemic. After Saturday, White said the U.F.C. did not plan to combine them for the sixth time.
In mid-January, before the Covid-19 pandemic and after McGregor ended an 18-month layoff with a 40-second recovery victory over Donald CerroneWhite said a McGregor-Nurmagomedov rematch, possibly at a football stadium, is likely to happen this year. His first fight ended with Nurmagomedov's submission win it is a post fight fight who won suspensions from both fighters. The fight also made a second fight an easy sell.
But Gaethje's victory and provisional title put him in a position to challenge Nurmagomedov next.