The UFC’s return to action was equal parts uplifting for sports fans who missed live action and also a reminder of the state of the world during the coronavirus pandemic. As the athletes competed in entertaining and close fights all week in Jacksonville, the crowdless environment lent itself to an interesting viewing experience for those at home and also those involved in the bouts.
From humorous acknowledgements of the empty arena to hearing chatter in the fight that cheers and woos from the crowd might’ve drowned out, these are some of the best moments spawned from those unique circumstances.
The best way to get past or make light of the elephant in the room is to acknowledge it right away, which is exactly what “Smile’N” Sam Alvey did as the first athlete to make the walk to the Octagon at UFC 249. The light heavyweight veteran mimed pointing to and high-fiving fans as he made his way to the Octagon, setting the tone for the night early.
Although Octagon interviews went on as usual, the exit is always difficult once instincts kick in, as Michael Bisping could tell you after interviewing Renato Moicano in Brasilia. Joe Rogan did the same, prompting the empty arena to cheer for the victorious Ryan Spann before adding a self-deprecating aside.
While viewers were treated to clear audio of coaches talking cageside, as well as trash talk inside the Octagon, an unexpected element was revealed when Carla Esparza and Greg Hardy said they could hear Daniel Cormier’s color commentary and used his analysis for their advantage. It worked out, as Hardy checked Yorgan de Castro’s leg kicks and Esparza mixed up her grappling and striking en route to victories for both.
Not that anyone needed reminding that Donald Cerrone loves fighting, but after he and Anthony Pettis went back and forth for two rounds, “Cowboy” made it a point to compliment his dance partner at the conclusion of the second frame and encouraged another five minutes of the same.
One of the enduring joke-formats in the MMA world is “Tony Ferguson is the type of guy to (insert quip).” Well, add “throw imaginary sand” into the mix because that’s exactly what he did in the middle of his interim title bout with Justin Gaethje. After sweeping Gaethje’s leg and getting into his flow, Ferguson’s corner called for him to “give me sand,” and he obliged, scooping his hand down to pick up and throw imaginary sand toward Gaethje. While he didn’t earn the win, this was definitely one of those “only Tony” moments.
In a fun bantamweight bout, Ray Borg and Ricky Simon might’ve had the most audible trash talk of the week. They jested with each other throughout their bout, including debating on whether Simon looks like Borg or vice versa, prompting Simon to remind Borg he was older by a year.
In what was a good look at the brutal, yet respectful, nature of mixed martial arts, Glover Teixeira and Anthony Smith shared office-chatter in the middle of the fourth round as Teixeira sought out the finish. After Teixeira cracked Smith with a fight-changing uppercut in the third round, the Brazilian punished Smith while fishing for submissions. That continued into the next round, prompting Teixeira to apologize to Smith for doing his job. Smith, to his credit, resigned to the reality of their situation and the two got back to work.
In a fierce and evenly matched bout, Nate Landwehr earned his first UFC win while Darren Elkins reminded everyone why he is “The Damage.” Landwehr, clearly having fun with the always-game Elkins, landed a flush elbow that sliced Elkins’ forehead, and he celebrated his work while calling out to UFC President Dana White. There’s a sense that Landwehr would’ve done the same thing whether or not fans were present, but hearing it clearly made it all the better.