Last March 15th, UFC boss Dana White announced the stacked fight card for the upcoming UFC 261 Live pay-per-view event – a blockbuster, triple title fight card, in front of a full-capacity crowd, at Jacksonville, FL.
This marks the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started that a full-capacity crowd would be allowed to watch sporting events live. Since March 2020, all major US sporting events have canceled or restricted crowds in live events to promote social distancing and lower the COVID-19 infection rates.
This landmark news was announced after the UFC’s failed bid to host UFC 259 in front of a full-capacity crowd in Texas, where arenas rejected the UFC’s proposal, despite the expressed approval given by the state government.
The UFC 261 fight cards feature some of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster. The three title fights are:
Kamaru Usman (c) vs. Jorge Masvidal
Women’s flyweight championship
Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Jessica Andrade
Women’s strawweight championship
Weili Zhang (c) vs. Rose Namajunas
The stacked card will undoubtedly bring a massive hype to the event, and will likely signal the return of full-capacity crowds in live sporting events. Currently, the country’s major sports organizations still hold live events in empty or limited-capacity arenas.
Last year, the UFC allowed a few thousand fans into Fight Island, to spectate its major events. During this time, strict social distancing protocols were observed, and every fan was asked to wear a mask. Undoubtedly, the UFC will still enforce minimum health protocols to safeguard the audience and its fighters, but the exact guidelines have yet to be announced.
Social distancing and mask requirements
The UFC has been keen on following COVID-19 safety protocols, not just for its fighters, but for its entire staff. There had been several cases that derailed some of the company’s goals in the past few months, but the company has been resilient despite the global health crisis.
Enforcing strict social distancing guidelines for the upcoming UFC 261 event will be impossible, as the full-capacity 15,000-seat arena would not be able to accommodate the 1-meter social distancing rule for all spectators. It would be up to the UFC to determine the minimum health guidelines to ensure the safety of all its fans, fighters, and crew.
UFC 261 Criticisms
The announcement of the full-capacity event drew criticisms from individuals on social media. According to some fans, the announcement was insensitive to the crisis that the country currently faces, and it might be a “superspreader” event that would likely skyrocket COVID-19 cases in the days that follow the event.
However, it’s important to note that Florida has seen declining cases in the past few months. From the peak of over 19,000 new infections every day, the state has drastically reduced the rate of infection to just over 3000 per day.
It also helps that the United States is the fastest distributor of COVID-19 vaccines in the world. While the country still holds the most number for COVID-19 infections, the government has responded by distributing the vaccines efficiently. To date, more than 140 million Americans have already received their first dose of the vaccine. In Florida, where the fight would be held live, over 4.2 million residents have already received their vaccine shots.
The federal government has yet to comment on the decision of the UFC to hold live events in front of a full-capacity crowd. The UFC expected criticisms ahead of their announcement, and they have responded reasonably to requests for comments and clarifications.
Our Opinion on UFC 261 Fight Night
The timing could not have been any better for the UFC. The rate of infections is declining every day, and the rollout of vaccines has been quick for Americans. The vast majority of the entertainment industry has been hit hard by the global health crisis, and the UFC is just the right organization to bring back full-capacity crowds.
Allowing fans to watch live events should resume somehow, and the UFC is paving the way to make it a possibility. The NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL, could not spearhead the movement to bring back fans to live sporting events, since the crowd they attract are likely to be more than 30,000 for every game.
The UFC doesn’t hold events every week, and it doesn’t command the same viewership as the other major sports organizations. It could be a good way to test the idea of bringing fans back to arenas, with a sample group that’s not too small, but not too big, either.
Either way, bringing fans back to live sporting events will hopefully bring the excitement back to sports. I’m sure all of us are tired of seeing fake crowds and fake crowd noises – and there’s nothing better than the UFC to bring us something real.