Dubai: On Saturday night, UFC is set to become the first major sport to return to action following the global lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. UFC 249 is a blockbuster 12-card event headlined by the Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje lightweight contest.
For the past six weeks UFC’s boss, Dana White, has been the most followed man as he and his team worked tirelessly, through widespread criticism and against the odds, to make it happen.
With possibly a record television audience watching from home, some of the sport’s best known fighters will battle pretty much by themselves in the famous Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, to prove a point that White has been repeatedly making — the world needs sport to continue.
He has ensured that stringent testing procedures are in place and that every precaution has been taken in adherence with safety guidelines laid down by the State government.
The UFC is ready, and the fighters are ready.
And at this point do boxing’s biggest promoters feel that they are being left behind in the race to breathe life back into sport?
A resounding yes!
Ferguson hit the nail on the head when he told world media during a virtual press conference on Thursday: “Right now, there are no Olympics, there’s no Wimbledon, there’s no NBA draft, there’s no NFL draft, there’s no tennis, there’s no soccer, hockey, there’s no baseball
“This is what we bring to the table ... and we’re going to do our best and we’re going to keep sports alive and that’s what we’re going to do.”
In the run up to Saturday’s event White has taken a lot of flak from his boxing peers, led by Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who said he has ‘very little respect’ for his ‘cowboy behaviour’
But perhaps Arum was not listening when White said in a much-watched CNN broadcast that, “Listen, we have families, too.
“I have a family; I don’t want to hurt my family. I don’t want to die.
“This isn’t just some crazy thing, this is a well thought out plan. We’ve had very, very smart people, doctors and people that have been involved with the UFC for a very long time working on this thing non-stop since it started.
“We believe that we have this thing in a place where it can be as safe as it can possibly be.”
Before the UFC’s emergence as a sporting power less than three decades ago, boxing was one of the world’s true global sports and veteran British promoter, Frank Warren, was intelligent enough to put pen to paper and defend his sport’s hesitant approach to making a return.
“The moment we get the green light from the government to resume we must be ready to hit the ground running and place boxing at the forefront of the sporting recovery,” Frank Warren wrote in the column published in BoxingScene.
“Being stuck indoors has given us plenty of time and scope to formulate plans for our return and figure out exactly how it will work. No sport wants to be operating behind closed doors, but that is how it is going to be, so we have to face up to the reality.
“Boxing has got to be a part of that. We need to be there, along with the other major sports, delivering the goods.”
“We are looking at all aspects and eventualities while we await further guidance from the government on when we are safe to resume under the new protocols.
“The green light will come and we will ensure that our fighters are at the forefront of bringing boxing back to the fans.”