If there were early heroes to the unprecedented coronavirus quarantine that began in March and effectively changed the way society operates for a still undetermined amount of time, they were fleeting.
We were entertained by the likes of Joe Exotic and Michael Jordan through distracting documentaries. We were also appreciative of entrepreneurs like everyone from our local liquor store owner to whoever created Zoom for figuring out how to help us retain some form of normalcy.
Very few, however, have had a quarantine resume quite like Dana White, who pulled off his greatest trick of all early Monday by somehow upgrading the main event of an already loaded UFC 251 card on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
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Let’s not forget, the UFC president was rightfully labeled a reckless maverick when he bucked the trend of what was seen as irresponsible stewardship to declare the show must go on at all costs. Then, there were the low points, including his infamous “Come get me corona!” interview with Yahoo Sports in March and a failed attempt at promoting cards on Native American ground in California, which forced an intervention from UFC’s television rights holder ESPN (and parent company Disney) to respect state regulations.
White and company eventually figured it out. Beginning in early May with a 10-day experimental start in Jacksonville, Florida, the promotion became a forerunner for professional sports regarding not just how to stay in business throughout the pandemic but to thrive while doing so responsibly thanks to its commitment to high-priced testing (and the “safe zone” UFC created on Yas Island for a four-pack of fight cards over the next two weeks).
Never one to care about critics, White endured it all and stayed on task, even with the protests of many big-name UFC fighters, including BMF champion Jorge Masvidal, dominating the headlines about fighter pay. Now, just a few weeks later, even Masvidal has decided to lay down his arms and join the cause by lending his pay-per-view star power as the replacement for Gilbert Burns against welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
For his ability alone to keep UFC front and center as the sports league of record throughout the uncertainness of the pandemic, White deserves to be named quarantine MVP by fight fans. But the upgrade to Usman-Masvidal is the gratuitous icing on the cake.
Professional team sports have struggled to even make it back to training camp let alone put on must-see events. Even boxing, which admittedly operates under a much more disorganized organizational structure than UFC, has presented cards with subpar matchmaking and seen both injuries and positive COVID tests destroy many of the fights worth watching.
UFC just keeps rolling. The dysfunction of the quarantine, where fighters don’t get paid unless they perform, has opened up doors for those more opportunistic and hungry than others. The results have been a series of incredible fights and cards with nary a mention of dipping quality given the circumstances.