MIAMI: The controversial mixed martial arts card scheduled for Saturday in Florida will go ahead as planned despite one of the undercard fighters testing positive for coronavirus.
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza (pix) was dropped from the Jacksonville event after he was diagnosed with Covid-19 on Friday. He arrived in Florida earlier in the week.
Two of Souza’s cornermen also tested positive.
“UFC’s medical team examined Souza and his two cornermen and found them to be currently asymptomatic, or not exhibiting the common symptoms of Covid-19,“ organizers said in a statement late Friday night.
“All three men have left the host hotel and will be self-isolating off premises.”
Middleweight Souza, of Brazil, was scheduled to fight Uriah Hall on the undercard of the televised Ultimate Fighting Championship 249 event which is being held without spectators.
Souza attended the weigh-in wearing a protective mask and was kept at a distance from Hall who also had a mask and gloves on.
Although Souza who is not showing symptoms will not fight, the other 11 bouts will go ahead. Officials said the other 23 fighters on the card have tested negative.
“Brother I know it sucks. I’m sorry you have to go through this. I am beyond devastated for the missed opportunity,“ Hall tweeted on Friday night.
The card is UFC chief Dana White’s attempt to drag the mixed martial arts series out of coronavirus quarantine.
White, who has also announced cards for May 13 and 16 in Jacksonville, insisted before Souza tested positive the production won’t put anyone at risk.
“Listen, we have families, too,“ White told CNN Sport. “I have a family; I don’t want to hurt my family. I don’t want to die.
“This isn’t just some crazy, this is a well thought-out plan. We’ve had very, very smart people, doctors and people that have been involved with the UFC for a very long time working on this thing non-stop since it started.
“We believe that we have this thing in a place where it can be as safe as it can possibly be.”
White’s controversial plans to stage a fight card in April on an Indian tribal reservation in California were thwarted.
But he got the green light in Florida to hold bouts without spectators from Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jacksonville, headlined by an interim lightweight title bout between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje.
Both fighters made weight on Friday at a weigh-in where media members and most UFC staff were kept at a distance, those closer to the fighters wore masks and the scale was sanitized.
Bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo and former champ Dominick Cruz both made weight for their title bout as well.
With the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer all on hold along with the US PGA Tour and LPGA White touts the return of UFC as a step toward normalcy and a boon for sport-starved fans.
And he said US President Donald Trump would be watching, in a conference call with US sports league leaders back in April.
“The president’s take on it was we have to get live sports back first,“ White told the Los Angeles Times.
“Show everybody how to do it safely. Give people who have to stay home some entertainment so they’re not bouncing off the walls.”
“From there, we can figure out how we get people back to work and how we get kids back to schools,“ he added.
He said by going first, he hoped other leagues might also reopen.
White attempted to avoid California’s lockdown measures when he planned the April 18 event on Indian casino land, but Walt Disney Co owner of UFC broadcaster ESPN later asked him to postpone.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis opened the door when he gave “essential services” status to employees at pro sports and media productions with a national audience. -AFP