Usman vs. Masvidal Marks UFC’s Historic COVID-19 Run In Sports

UFC 261 storms the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, this Saturday, rematching UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal.

The two have bad blood that has cooled a bit in exchange for the business at hand, welterweight championship legitimacy for BMF title holder Masvidal, and welterweight supremacy for Usman.

However, the show stealer is not the fisticuffs at hand but the monumental moment for the UFC, and its president, Dana White.

The UFC will fill roughly 15,000 seats in Jacksonville for UFC 261, which streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.

The UFC claims it has taken all appropriate safety measures even though White has already said masks will be optional for those in the crowd.

Holy thrill-seeking, Batman.

“When this whole COVID thing started, I told you we would be first. I told you we would get through this,” said White during the UFC 261 pre-fight press conference. “But to do that, we had to have a place to go. Florida was the leader in getting things open – bringing back sports. These guys have been very good to us, and we couldn’t have gotten it done without the State.

“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.”

White flexed a bit and brought out Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who blessed the event with an introductory statement during Thursday’s presser.

“This is going to be the first full-throttle sporting event since COVID hit, indoor, anywhere in the United States,” DeSantis 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.”

Florida was the first State to allow the UFC to put on empty arena events early in the pandemic. Starting with UFC 249 and two subsequent UFC Fight Night events in May 2020, White added that he felt obligated to come back to the State to “repay” DeSantis and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

For all the controversies and bad decisions White has made over his career, there is no debating his resilience and tenacity. The UFC kept combat sports alive during the pandemic with Fight Island and more and is now pushing the envelope even further.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.