Within a few seconds of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first YouTube episode previewing UFC 249, set to take place on Saturday, May 9 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, it’s clear things are different and we have entered a brave new world. Alex Baez, the UFC’s Octagon & Warehouse manager, talks about the extra logistics and precautionary steps being taken for the next three UFC events, which will all take place in Jacksonville, none of them will be in front of spectators. “We’re taking two trucks on this one,” Baez says as he loads cargo into the back of a vehicle while wearing a face mask adorned with the UFC’s logo. “Less contact with people: one to the arena, and one to the hotel.” The coronavirus measures do not stop there. Every fighter on the UFC card, which is headlined by a tilt between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title, gets their own individual workout space. This includes 26 individual saunas, instead of the normal four, to accommodate social distancing. Testing kits, hotel screenings, temperature checks – it’s clear to see the UFC is taking Covid-19 seriously. Francis Ngannou, the No 2 heavyweight contender, set to take on Jairzinho Rozenstruik, also shows how the fighters have had to adapt to what has been a months-long pause in training and preparation as they have prepared for multiple cancelled fights. “This has been the closest we have been for a fight,” Ngannou says, “even though this is the third time. But we have never been one week closer.” UFC: Stipe fires back at Dana, Cormier – ‘I want to fight’ If fighters’ schedules are known for one thing, it’s the incredibly complex build-up which includes everything from training, workouts, dieting and then, of course, cutting weight. Hitting pause on a camp, like Ngannou has done three times, has clearly taken its toll on him, and I’m sure will impact every fighter in some way at UFC 249. Eric Nicksick, Ngannou’s MMA coach, explained how the coronavirus and social distancing has forced them to go down to a bare bones training staff for what has basically been a 17-week camp. “Obviously with the quarantine, we’ve had to adapt quite a bit. Really, for the last six, seven weeks it’s just been myself, Francis and [Blagoy] Ivanov as our sparring partner. So we’ve tightened the bolts and it’s really only been a small group in here.” View this post on Instagram “Hooah” Sending Love & Respect To Those Who Have Served & Are Still Serving # WeAppreciateYouAll -XTA- Hometeam #ufc249 A post shared by @TonyFergusonxt (@tonyfergusonxt) on May 6, 2020 at 4:12pm PDT Gaethje notes how his training has not changed at all because of Covid-19, given he was already working at his own private facility. But so was Ferguson, so any advantage should be negated. Gaethje took this fight on short notice, but the original April 18 date was rescheduled, giving him a healthy enough amount of time to get ready. But once again, how will irregular schedules for all the fighters translate into Octagon performances? As the fighters descend upon Florida, there will also be a larger microscope zeroed squarely on both the UFC and the Sunshine State. Phase one for Florida’s reopening kicked off on May 4, issued directly by governor Ron Desantis. This includes limiting outside interaction to essential trips like grocery shopping, exercise, health care and religious worship. According to Florida’s website, groups are still limited to 10 people when it comes to businesses, however, face masks are not required. The three planned UFC events in Jacksonville, to take place in May, are being sanctioned by the Florida State Boxing Commission, and the UFC got the golden touch from the state’s division of emergency management in April. UFC was added to its list of essential services, stating “employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience” were essential workers. Getting the state on board essentially nullified the issues the UFC had with its botched plan to host UFC 249 on tribal lands, after the state of California apparently took its concerns to parent company Disney and ESPN, who hold the lucrative broadcast and pay-per-view rights to UFC events in the US. While doing press online from the UFC head offices in Las Vegas, UFC president Dana White talked about the 30-page document he sent to Desantis outlining all the steps they would be taking to combat the potential spread of the virus. He said he would be willing to share that with any other professional sporting leagues who might want to review it. The fact that White and the UFC look to be the first professional sporting event through the wall in what I will hesitantly call the “post-coronavirus landscape”, given White tried everything under the sun before finally getting what appears to be a green light in the sunshine state, should come as a surprise to no one. Sporting bodies should take notice, however, because it appears the UFC is taking this seriously, and this fight will go off, finally. Life with the threat of Covid-19 in the backs of our collective minds is going to linger for a while, but when it comes to pushing forward, we’re now seeing the first signs of life in what looks to be a very different world altogether. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. 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