UFC 249, the first major professional sports event in the United States in nearly two months, began with a prerecorded message from President Trump standing outside the White House.
“I want to congratulate Dana White and the UFC,” Trump said. “We love it. We think it’s important. Get the sports leagues back. Let’s play. You do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do, but we need sports. We want our sports back.”
It was the first step of what could be the slow return of professional sports in North America with NASCAR holding its first race next weekend and the PGA Tour coming back shortly after that.
There were no fans at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., and there was certainly no social distancing in the octagon during the six-hour pay-per-view card, which featured 11 fights and two championships bouts. The card was briefly in doubt Friday when Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who was scheduled to face Uriah Hill in one of the preliminary fights, and two of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19. The event, however, continued as the results for the 23 other fighters on the card came back negative.
In the main event, Justin Gaethje pummeled interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson and the fight was stopped in the fifth round. Afterward, Gaethje took off the title put on him by White, the UFC president, and said, “I’ll wait for the real one.”
Khabib Nurmagomedov, the undefeated lightweight champion, tweeted, “No comment,” after the convincing victory.
In the co-main event for the UFC bantamweight title, champion Henry Cejudo defeated Dominick Cruz in the second round on a TKO and shockingly retired shortly after at 33 years old.
“I’m happy with my career,” Cejudo said. “I’ve done enough in the sport. I want to walk away. I want to enjoy myself.”