UFC president Dana White is sure to continue taking flack for the decision to open his events back up to fans, with many critics being concerned that COVID-19 is still too much of a threat. Despite the blowback, UFC 261 and UFC 262 both sold out full arenas in minutes, according to UFC social media postings.
UFC 261 features three title fights, but perhaps more distinguishing is the fact that it will be the promotion’s first event to host a full arena since the pandemic induced lockdown measures swept across the globe. Prior to now, any events with fans would have been limited in capacity and would require social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures.
White has been adamant that he would not re-open UFC events to fans until he could fill arenas without limitations.
On April 24 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., UFC 261 will welcome back a crowd of 15,000-plus to the sold-out arena. The main event features welterweight champion Kamaru Usman putting his belt on the line in a rematch with Jorge Masvidal. The co-main event pits strawweight titleholder Zhang Weili against former champion Rose Namajunas. The third title fight to welcome fans back features flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko defending opposite Jessica Andrade.
Wanting to keep the live audience ball rolling, White is taking UFC 262 to Houston, where the Toyota Center sold out to the tune of 17,000 fans in what he says was a matter of minutes. UFC 262 features Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler squaring off to determine new UFC lightweight champion after Khabib Nurmagomedov confirmed his retirement.
UFC 261 and UFC 262 require no restrictions on fans
Neither UFC 261 nor UFC 262 will have restrictions on fans entering the buildings. They will not be required to wear masks, social distance, test negative for COVID-19, or show proof of vaccination. The UFC instead provided a notice to ticket buyers that they knowingly accepted the risk of exposure to COVID-19 when they purchased their tickets and would not hold the UFC, the venues, or other parties liable if they contracted COVID-19 at the events.
[UPDATE 04/07/21: There has been some confusion over whether or not facial coverings would be required at UFC 262 in Houston. The NBA’s Houston Rockets do have specific protocols that may include facial mask requirements at the Toyota Center. UFC officials, however, would only say, as of April 7, that they didn’t currently have a comment on protocol specifics. We will continue to pursue specific protocols from the UFC and provide updates as warranted.]
White and the UFC have been pushing the limits of restrictions from the beginning of the pandemic shutdowns, insisting they could safely hold events. White famously tried to move forward with UFC 249 in the spring of 2020 to the point of moving the event to a Native American reservation and declining to divulge the location.
He eventually relented in moving forward with UFC 249 in that fashion, at the request of his broadcast partners at ESPN and Disney. White quickly found a way to hold events without audiences, first in Jacksonville and then at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas and on UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
Though safety protocols have identified several fighters and related individuals as having COVID-19, there have been no major outbreaks or deaths reported in connection with UFC events during the pandemic.
White is now continuing the push to be first, by welcoming unrestricted, unlimited audiences back to UFC events in locations that will allow for it.
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