Jacksonville will host a full-occupancy mask-optional UFC event Saturday night, putting to test the efficacy of vaccinations and herd immunity.
The city held an empty arena event last May at the height of the pandemic. This one will be inside a full house, with roughly 15,000 tickets sold out well in advance, putting to rest the old concerns that Jacksonville is just a walkup town.
But this is not just any fight event.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who urged UFC after the 2020 event to “let’s have fans next time,” went into Fox News raconteur mode as he recounted the tale of UFC bringing “live competition” to Jacksonville.
“We didn’t have the big fans for it yet. I told (UFC President) Dana (White), listen, when you guys are ready to come, you know, have the crowd, Florida needs to be the first place to do UFC with the fans,” DeSantis said in what were likely unscripted remarks
The Governor added that people could “make decisions for themselves” about whether to attend the “first full-throttle arena sporting event since COVID hit.”
“There’s a lot of stuff that comes flying at you, particularly from media, social media, all this stuff. Some people don’t like to handle that. Dana White goes right in the teeth of that,” DeSantis said.
“Welcome to Florida. You guys aren’t the only one looking to come to this oasis of freedom,” DeSantis said.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, whose city embraced fighting sports throughout the pandemic with All Elite Wrestling homesteading at Daily’s Place, was no less enthusiastic than the Governor in his brief remarks, lauding White for having delivered live action fights after the empty-arena match.
White likewise lauded Curry and DeSantis.
“They were key to everything,” he said.
The card is stacked. Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman faces Jorge Masvidal in the main. Masvidal is known for his political activism, including campaigning for Donald Trump last year. Strawweight champion Weili Zhang and Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko are also slated to defend their titles.
There will be COVID-19 screenings also, though these stop short of the DeSantis-disapproved “vaccine passport.”
“To ensure an expedited entry into the event, ticket holders are encouraged to download Health Pass in advance and complete the questionnaire before arriving at the arena,” advises a press release.
— City of Jacksonville (COJ) (@CityofJax) April 22, 2021