MMA, boxing face obstacles to holding cards amid coronavirus fears

It seems only natural that combat sports aren’t going down to the coronavirus without a fight.

While all the major sports leagues and tournaments around the country have essentially ceased operations in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the world of mixed martial arts and boxing are exploring options to go through with most of their upcoming events.

Concerns about spreading the virus caused Bellator 241 to be postponed on Friday just hours before the mixed martial arts event was to take place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. All fighters and officials were paid, unlike most combat events that depend on gate receipts and television revenue to pay the fighters.

Also two major boxing shows set for Saturday and Tuesday at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden were postponed for health and safety reasons. But while all other sports leagues might be on hiatus up to six weeks or more, promoters from the UFC, Top Rank, and Premier Boxing Champions are scrambling to preserve their upcoming cards, including UFC 249, which is set for April 18 at Barclays Center.

The UFC is going ahead with UFC Fight Night 170 in Brazil on Saturday in an empty arena with only fighters, cornermen, referees, judges and the broadcast team from ESPN and EPSN+. Kevin Lee and Charles Oliveira will meet in the main event.

A March 21 UFC event in London is still scheduled, while UFC events initially slated for Columbus on March 28 and Portland on April 11 will be moved to the UFC Apex Facility in Las Vegas and will not be open to fans. The 130,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility houses UFC Studio shows like Dana White’s Contender Series.

As of now, there’s every indication the UFC will do all it can to preserve UFC 249 at Barclays Center, where Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) and Tony Ferguson (25-3) will meet in a mega-fight for the lightweight championship. Gatherings of more than 500 have been banned by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. While the ban could last up to six months there is hope the world will be a safer place in 30 days. If UFC 249 is canceled, it would mark the fifth time a Khabib-Ferguson matchup will have been scrapped.

Meanwhile, Top Rank is also looking into staging its upcoming boxing events in studio-like conditions. Top Rank boss Bob Arum has talked with UFC president Dana White about utilizing the Apex facility, but also could hold the bouts in other small venues around Las Vegas without a live audience. The UFC and Top Rank have a partnership with ESPN and ESPN+ and are eager to supply programming at a time when the other major sports are idle. The major problem is the availability of timely testing procedures for COVID-19.

“Getting a studio setting just to show the fights on television, that’s not ideal, but we’re preparing to do it,” Arum told The Post. “But without testing it’s no good. We’ve got to be able to test the guys.Unless we have tests to where we can get answers in a couple of days or two days or the same day we’re nowhere.”

Premier Boxing Champions postponed a boxing card set for Saturday at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., but hasn’t made decisions on future events. That includes a show to be televised on Showtime on March 28 from Las Vegas, another on April 11 on Fox from Minneapolis and another card on April 18 from Phoenix. California-based Promoter Tom Brown said ticket sales have ceased for the events. He spent much of Friday on the phone speaking with doctors and commissioners trying to brainstorm on how to continue the shows without an audience.

The central problem remains: How can fighters and the personnel who will be working those shows be tested?

“We want everyone that’s going to be in that room to be tested,” Brown told The Post, “whether it’s the TV crew, the ambulance drivers, the commission, the referee or the time keeper. We want everyone tested because if someone does come out of that arena with the virus everyone has to be quarantined.”

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