UFC 249 showed the potential, and the limits, of sports in pandemic

Yahoo Sports
UFC 249 went off in a very different format. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
UFC 249 went off in a very different format. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

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Morning, friends. How was the weekend? A lot like the last six, right? Well … except for the fact that we had sports back! Or at least a highly sports-like product.

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The UFC returned to our pay-per-view channels Saturday night with UFC 249, a highly orchestrated, highly secured affair with no fans in attendance. Say what you will about mixed martial arts — whether you think it’s the purest of all sports, the future of American sports, or human cockfighting — what’s indisputable is that the UFC’s Dana White dragged his entire sport back out of quarantine before any other major sport.

What lessons can we take from that? First, that sports can be played in the time of coronavirus. Second, that those sports are a long, long way from what we fondly remember as “real” sporting events.

Masks were everywhere, and so were tests. Fans weren’t in attendance, and after they tested positive on Friday, neither were one fighter or two workers, all asymptomatic. This was part of Dana White’s master plan, and the show proceeded without a hiccup, as projected.

Sure, there was something missing, and not just the fans themselves. The palpable emptiness is what will characterize all of sports that return without fans, and that ambience is impossible to replace. Everything will feel like a scrimmage, even if it’s for the highest stakes possible. We’ll have to get used to that, because it’s the best of a whole lot of bad alternatives.

“Nothing makes sense,” said Daniel Cormier, part of the broadcast team, at one point, and he could have been speaking for all of us over the last two months.

But look past the facemasks, look past the empty seats, look past the sense of unreality that hung over the entire evening. If you just watched what happened inside the octagon, you could almost — almost — forget what’s brought us here. Over 11 fights, UFC 249 delivered something you’d never have expected from UFCs 1 to 248: normalcy.

It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t within shouting distance of perfect. But it was something more than we’ve had for the last eight weeks. As long as White’s audacious plan doesn’t result in more coronavirus infections, we can consider this a step forward in the long way back from this pandemic-induced lockdown, a step toward all sports coming back.

And so now we wait.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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