Put on a mask, Dana White, and tighten up your act before the coronavirus spreads

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

The UFC’s extensive on-site testing ahead of UFC 249 revealed that preliminary card fighter Ronaldo Souza and two of his cornermen are COVID-19 positive. All were asymptomatic. 

Souza’s fight with Uriah Hall was pulled, and Souza and his team were removed from the UFC hotel in Jacksonville, Florida, so they can “self-isolate.” The rest of the 11-fight show (with the final five on pay-per-view) will go on.

Should it? 

Well, the idea that someone in the approximately 300 people that the UFC tested came up with COVID-19 shouldn’t be a significant surprise. Fighters, trainers, referees, judges, UFC staff and even outside media are undergoing the tests to get inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena (or to attend functions and the UFC hotel in the days prior).

If the standard for running the card were zero positive tests, then neither it, nor pretty much any business in America, stands a chance of ever opening. Auto factories are scheduled to reopen in a little over a week. If one worker tests positive, does Ford shut things down and then wait two weeks to try again? It’ll never be able to start, or stay started, for long.

Moreover, discovering the virus in three men with no symptoms and thus preventing them from unknowingly spreading the virus is a good thing. 

That doesn’t mean the UFC should just whistle along like all is going to plan. It isn’t.

The three positive results increase both the focus on and the stakes surrounding this card. This is no longer an exercise in theory. It’s a full-on drill. 

Every other sport — among other entities — is watching closely on how this plays out. UFC president Dana White said Donald Trump wants the event to serve as a “blueprint” for the return of live sports.

After first scrapping White’s original effort at staging UFC 249 on April 18 on tribal land in California (and away from regulators), the card was moved to Jacksonville with the support of the governor, mayor and fight commission. 

There will be no fans present, social distancing will supposedly be followed (each judge and broadcast crew member will be separated at his or her own table, for instance) and there will be extensive cleaning all night. White was willing to be the first to try, and he promised strict procedures. 

Yet it’s clear there are significant flaws, including by White himself.

You can start with Friday’s final face-off between the fighters, held inside a hotel ballroom. It was completely unnecessary. It never should have been staged. 

The official weigh-in, overseen by the commission, was obviously a must. Having the fighters return and pose for a picture across from each other was nothing but a promotional act. It should have been canceled to cut down on interactions.

It was a disaster. Souza arrived wearing gloves and a mask. The test result wasn’t in, yet, but he was under suspicion because he’d informed the UFC that a family member might have tested positive for the coronavirus in Orlando, where he’d been living and training. Opponent Uriah Hall also wore a mask and stayed far from Souza.

White, standing in between them, however, wasn’t wearing a mask, which was absurd. 

Is this about safety or about vanity? We’re sure White has no interest in donning a mask, but it isn’t about how he looks or feels. It’s about cutting down on the spread and making this work. If there is an outbreak from UFC 249, then this will be deemed a disaster. Why risk it? Standing without any covering between 24 fighters makes it easy to catch whatever there is to catch before potentially passing it on.

UFC president Dana White wasn't wearing a mask around the fighters — and touching hands — on Friday. (Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
UFC president Dana White wasn't wearing a mask around the fighters — and touching hands — on Friday. (Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

This is common sense. 

Worse, as Souza walked up, he immediately fist-bumped White. What? After Souza and Hall departed and the next two fighters were called up, White fist-bumped Michelle Waterson. They even hugged. Waterson then hugged opponent Carla Esparza. While those two will clearly have contact inside the Octagon, hugging at a face-off potentially exposed additional people on Friday. Again, ridiculous. It was additional risk for no reason.

White, of course, then fist-bumped Fabricio Werdum when he came out. Werdum then bumped the arm of opponent Aleksei Oleinik. On and on it went. White actually rubbed his hands together and then proceeded to bump hands and pat on the back all of the remaining fighters who showed up (the main card), all while standing at close quarters between them.

Essentially, White, via one foolish contact with Souza, whom he knew was a potential positive, then touched 14 more fighters. Who knows who they then contacted? And who knows how lax this all is when cameras aren’t rolling at an official event.

This was like a CDC video of how not to do things.

Did the virus spread? Hopefully not. But it’s fair to wonder why this was so sloppy, especially given the importance of this endeavor.

Additionally, the UFC told ESPN that Souza was isolated upon arrival in Jacksonville, but there is video and pictures of him near other fighters in the UFC hotel.

The UFC put in an enormous amount of work and money in an attempt to pull this off. Someone did have to be first. Done right, this could work. It still might. If everyone is lucky, no one else is infected and this is deemed a massive success. But this has not, thus far, inspired confidence that the basics of human behavior can be altered. 

Dana White needs to tighten up his act. And put on a mask, man.

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