MMA Ratings Podcast

May 18, 2020

The UFC Return Was A Huge Success Despite Hiccups Along the Way

By Adam Martin

The UFC Jacksonville series is officially over and now it's time to reflect on what has taken place. After two months away from television screens, the world's leading MMA promotion returned with a bang, holding three events -- UFC 249, UFC Fight Night Jacksonville on ESPN+, and UFC Fight Night Florida on ESPN -- over the course of eight days. Despite a few hiccups along the way, the UFC's return can only be characterized as a huge success. For MMA fans, this has been one of the most exciting eight-day stretches in UFC history.

With all odds against them, the UFC and its president Dana White did the unthinkable and held a live sporting event during the coronavirus pandemic. The UFC was the first major North American sport back, and that's no small feat. It's something White can always be proud of, because he did what he set out to do. Everyone was doubting White, and for good reason considering the state of the world right now. But White was the one person who all along said the Octagon would return to the television screens of fans. The UFC did just that, and it delivered with three quality shows.

The fights have been absolutely fantastic during the last three cards. Credit goes of course to the fighters for going out there and putting on an amazing show for everyone watching, but you have to give credit to the UFC matchmakers for putting together three quality cards on short notice. The fights have been a lot of fun to watch and for fight fans who were desperate for some action for the better part of two months, the UFC has absolutely delivered on its promise.

The first card was UFC 249 and it delivered. In the main event, Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson had a "Fight of the Night" that saw Gaethje become the new interim UFC lightweight title. We also saw Henry Cejudo defend the UFC bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz, and later retire from MMA. Francis Ngannou scored a 20-second knockout over Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Calvin Kattar had a ridiculous knockout win over Jeremy Stephens, and Vicente Luque knocked out Niko Price in a barnburner. Overall the card was exceptional for fans to watch and for the UFC, who sold 700,000 pay-per-views. UFC 249 was a massive success for the UFC any way you look at it.

UFC Fight Night Jacksonville on ESPN+ was also a quality card. In the main event, Glover Teixeira had an exceptional performance against Anthony Smith, and in other bouts, Drew Dober had a nice finish over Alexander Hernandez, plus there were great performances from Thiago Moises, Chase Sherman, and Brian Kelleher, who won a share of "Fight of the Night" for his war with Hunter Azure. This card was the weakest of the three but it was also a pretty solid Fight Night card, especially considering the circumstances.

The third card, UFC Fight Night Florida on ESPN, was marketed on the back of Walt Harris' comeback after the death of his daughter Aniah Blanchard, and his main event fight against Alistair Overeem didn't disappoint, as Overeem came back from early trouble to get the knockout win. Other finishes included Miguel Baeza knocking out Matt Brown, Kevin Holland finishing Anthony Hernandez in less than a minute, Cortney Casey submitting Mara Romero Borella and Rodrigo Nascimento finishing Don'Tale Mayes. There were also two exceptional undercard fights, Nate Landwehr vs. Darren Elkins and Song Yadong vs. Marlon Vera, which won "Fight of the Night." Overall, the three events the UFC put together were exceptional from an entertainment point of view.

Of course, there were numerous hiccups along the way. First and foremost, COVID-19 reared its ugly head when it infected Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and his team, leading to the cancellation of his fight against Uriah Hall at UFC 249 less than 24 hours before it was scheduled to take place. That was a scary situation for everyone involved with the event, especially since it was the first card. Fortunately, no one else so far has tested positive for the coronavirus besides Souza and his two cornermen. It's still a tough situation all around, but you have to give credit to the UFC for its testing protocol, which caught Souza before he fought.

Second, the officiating has been a major talking point the last week. That's not White's fault, but the refereeing and judging have been questionable at times. No one needed to see Smith get beaten down the way he did by Teixeira on the ESPN+ card, and there were a slew of controversial decisions at the ESPN card. There was also the >questionable stoppage in the Cruz-Cejudo fight, which led to Cruz suggesting that referee Keith Peterson was drunk. Overall, the officiating was average at best and was a net negative.

And third, there were no fans in attendance. Although some will make the argument that no fans made it more interesting because we could hear the impact of blows, let's be real, the sport is better with fans in the audience. However, this is something we as sports fans will have to get used to in the coming months as more sports leagues return to play games without crowds. The UFC couldn't have fans in attendance, and it hurt the company's bottom line, as they made no gate. It's cool to watch fights without fans in attendance because it's different, but this is a spectator sport and it's better with the fans.

Overall, this was an amazing week for the sport. The UFC is ultimately an entertainment product, and the organization delivered big with three exceptional, entertaining events. Yes, there were hiccups along the way, mostly with things the UFC can't control, but the positives far outweighed the negatives. It's good to have the UFC back in business, and hopefully, no one else gets sick and the shows can go on as planned. There are a lot of things you can criticize White and the UFC for doing, but it's hard not to give Dana White the thumbs up for the incredible job his organization has done considering the circumstances.

UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje (formerly UFC 249: Khabib vs. Ferguson) was scheduled to take place April 18, 2020 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Due to ongoing concerns regarding the coronavirus, the event was rescheduled for May 9, 2020 and relocated to VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

Click HERE for more UFC 249 Post-Fight Analysis

UFC Fight Night Jacksonville: Smith vs. Teixeira took place May 13, 2020 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

Click HERE for more UFC Fight Night Jacksonville Post-Fight Analysis

UFC Fight Night Jacksonville: Overeem vs. Harris took place May 16, 2020 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

Click HERE for more UFC Fight Night Jacksonville Post-Fight Analysis

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