The return of the UFC Saturday night marked the first major U.S. sporting event since the novel coronavirus pandemic forced a shutdown in March and it featured a message from President Trump, a report that the sport was attempting to muzzle athletes’ comments on its health precautions and a glimpse at what future competitions in venues without fans could look like. UFC 249, an ESPN pay-per-view event in Jacksonville, Fla., took place with no fans in the 15,000-seat VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
With everyone outside the Octagon sporting masks and fighters being able to hear commentary for the ESPN broadcast, it was a surreal scene — one that may become commonplace, with other sports, from baseball to basketball to football to horse racing, considering going fan-less.
“I want to congratulate Dana White and the UFC,” President Trump said in a video, going on to add: “Get the sports leagues back, let’s play. You do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do, but we need sports. We want our sports back.” On Saturday, that full-speed-ahead determination extended to the fighters’ participation agreement, according to the New York Times, which reported that fighters could risk losing prize money or bonuses if they were to “suggest or communicate” that proper safety precautions were not in place. White drew a distinction, telling Yahoo Sports that fighters would be subject to punishment were they to say anything untrue about UFC.Trump has a friendship with White that had spanned almost 20 years and dated to the days when the president was one of the few casino owners would agree to stage UFC events.