The UFC has staged its first event with a capacity crowd since the COVID-19 pandemic started last March, with 15,000 fans packing the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Florida.
When UFC President Dana White brought the UFC to Florida last May for a closed-door event, he promised a return trip once the state fully reopened.
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And he made good on that statement on Saturday (local time).
Over 15,000 fans packed into the Jacksonville event without social-distancing and not many masks being worn.
"There’s been a lot of monumental moments in my career and this is one of them,” White said.
UFC 261 is being touted as the first full-capacity sporting event held indoors in more than a year.
And while thousands of fans were delighted to see a return to normalcy, some were questioning the wisdom of the capacity crowd when the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.
Fans flocked to social media to describe the event as a potential "super-spreader", while others labelled the packed crowd a "disturbing" sight.
Usman and Masvidal in UFC 261 rematch
The card features three title fights, highlighted by a rematch between reigning welterweight champion Kamaru “Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (18-1) and Jorge “King of Miami” Masvidal (35-14).
Usman has won 17 consecutive fights, a winning streak that spans nearly eight years.
The 33-year-old Usman beat Masvidal in July, winning a unanimous decision at UFC 251 at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
Masvidal stepped in on six days’ notice, flying halfway around the world to fill in for No. 1 title contender Gilbert Burns after Burns tested positive for COVID-19.
Masvidal held his own and went five rounds against the champ, whose strategy including stomping on Masvidal’s feet every time they were locked up.
Despite being a considerable underdog at plus-330 in the rematch, Masvidal is sure to have the crowd behind him.
Hundreds showed up at the pre-fight news conference to root for the 36-year-old Miami native, sometimes even interrupting questions and answers, and then waited in a long line to get a socially distant picture with the affable fighter.
“They don’t cheer for me because I’m so good looking or the food that I eat or nothing,” he said.
“That’s not why they cheer for me. They cheer for me because I give everybody their hard-earned money.
"I come in here and perform and bring the violence that they crave.
"That’s the only reason why I got all those fans behind me.”
with Associated Press
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