We’re now approaching two months into an almost complete lock-down of the United States, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As our nation and the rest of the world are looking to gradually resume normalcy, the state of professional sports is not looking good for the rest of 2020. While NFL is still planning to kick off the 2020-2021 season in the fall, both NBA and NHL likely won’t start their regular seasons until the very end of the year – and that’s the best case scenario. However MMA followers might have it better than the fans of more traditional ball-and-stick team sports: there are only 3 people who have to be in the combat arena at any given time, which makes it far more reasonable to practice some semblance of social distancing. UFC president Dana White has been raring at the bit to bring back violent action in the Octagon. And while UFC 249 had to be postponed from the originally scheduled date of April 18th, it looks like things have finally fallen into place – though we won’t be seeing the long awaited lightweight title bout between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov just yet, we are going to see some actual MMA fights this Saturday! (Fingers crossed).
Of course in the big scheme of things, lack of professional sports is a comparatively minor problem during a pandemic. Aside from the obvious worrying about infection and illness, a huge number of people are out of work and have a hard time paying the bills or putting food on the table. And even those of us who are lucky to still have a job – and perhaps even an ability to work remotely from the safety of our homes – are bound to be affected by the uncertainty of the current situation. The anxiety can build up, leading to depression and other psychological issues. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, please seek professional help. You might think that you can’t afford it, but the cost of therapy may be less than you realize. And while it’s easy to dismiss sports as meaningless entertainment, for those of us who are used to watching MMA fights every weekend – or basketball games several times a week, the change in routine brings additional free time to fill. This is certainly not helping anyone’s mental state. Luckily, Dana White and UFC are coming to the rescue. Let’s take a look at three top-billed fights from each of the three UFC events scheduled in the next ten days.
UFC 249: Ferguson vs Gaethje
Saturday, May 9th – Jacksonville,FL
Well we are not getting the almost mystical (or is it mythical?) matchup of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson… For now. Or maybe ever. It does seem like this bout is truly cursed so I’m not going to waste any more time talking about it. Instead, this card is made up of mangled remains of what was once supposed to be UFC 249, UFC 250, and some fight nights which were cancelled along the way. Which actually leaves us with a decent Pay-Per-View card, with two title fights – even if one is interim and both were cobbled together with replacement opponents. Francis Ngannou vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik is also an appealing bout which will likely see a heavyweight title shot for the winner. As long as the fight doesn’t end up looking anything like Ngannou’s battle with Derek Lewis. Overall, while I am rather disappointed with the loss of the original UFC 249 main event, this cobbled-together card might be the perfect way to kick things back into gear.
UFC Fight Night: Smith vs Texeira
Wednesday, May 13th – Jacksonville,FL
Of course the quality of the events drops off dramatically after UFC 249, leaving us with two mediocre (though pretty decent by recent UFC fight night standard) fight night events. The first of the two is headlined by a matchup which could produce the next light-heavyweight title contender. Whether anyone is particularly excited to see Smith or Teixeira rematch Jon Jones is a different issue. For now, these two are facing each other in an attempt to remain relevant while Jones is battling his demons, and possibly rematching Thiago Santos or Dominick Reyes, both of whom are more deserving of a rematch than Smith or Glover.
Meanwhile, another perennial contender in the barren light-heavyweight division is moving up, as Ben Rothwell welcomes Ovince St. Preux to the almost-as-barren heavyweight land. Meh. We also have Alexander Hernandez and Drew Dober fighting it out for a fringe lightweight top-10 slot.
UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs Harris
Saturday, May 16th – Jacksonville,FL
A meaningless heavyweight fight headlines this card – despite the high rank of both opponents, Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris occupy a sort of no-mans-land in heavyweight division. Should Harris win, I’d like to see him matched up with Curtis Blaydes; however matching up the winner of this fight with the winner of Rothwell-OSP is also a decent option. Further down the card, Angela Hill and Claudia Gadelha will fight it out in the women’s strawweight division. And Dan Ige, having quietly racked up a five-win streak in UFC, welcomes Edson Barboza down to the 145 lbs. Barboza lost four of his last 5 matchups at lightweight.
So there we have it. Eight days, three UFC events, two title fights, 31 total scheduled fights. A good way to end the MMA, and live sports, drought. Let’s hope it all goes according to plan!