UFC tightens COVID-19 safety protocols ahead of 9 Las Vegas events

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS —The UFC’s trip to Abu Dhabi not only produced fireworks in the cage and the development of several notable prospects, but it also provided some lessons on safety in its fight against the coronavirus.

Lawrence Epstein, the UFC’s chief operating officer, told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that the company has enhanced its safety protocols, with the most significant being that fighters and their corners must produce a negative COVID-19 test before flying to Las Vegas for a fight.

Epstein noted that there were positive tests before members of the 670-person UFC delegation left their homes, but once inside of the Fight Island bubble, there were zero positive tests in the more than three weeks they were there. 

There were 2,632 tests administered in Abu Dhabi with zero positive test results.

“Once we got onto Fight Island, we were in a true bubble,” Epstein said. “I believe it’s the only bubble, the only true bubble, that’s been created to date. You couldn’t leave. If you did leave, you weren’t allowed to come back in. All of the staff that was working at the hotels, the restaurants and at the events, they had already quarantined on the island for up to a month and were being rigorously tested during the period of time they were on the island.

“I think it had a lot to do with those factors that we didn’t have any positive tests once people got to Abu Dhabi.”

The UFC has nine events at its Apex facility in August, and these enhanced protocols will be in effect for those, beginning with Saturday’s card headlined by a middleweight bout between Derek Brunson and Edmen Shahbazyan.

The new protocols include:

  • Expanded testing, requiring all fighters and their corners traveling to Las Vegas to produce a negative test result before they travel.

  • Upon arrival at the host hotels, fighters, corners, officials, media and others will be immediately tested in a tent outside of the hotel instead of going into the hotel for the test. Then, they will be quarantined in a room until they produce a negative result. If they are positive, they will be sent to another hotel to quarantine. Las Vegas residents who test positive will be sent home to quarantine.

  • After receiving a negative test, fighters and their corners will be given an individual check-in time in an attempt to limit congestion in the area. Previously, fighters and their teams would stand in line waiting to be checked in by the UFC.

  • Host hotels will now be cleaned hourly, as opposed to three times daily previously. The UFC has acquired additional electrostatic disinfectant sprayers and has hired a professional cleaning crew to use them as opposed to having its own staff do that job. There will be no members of the public in any of the host hotels, only those involved in the UFC events.

  • The UFC will recommend face shields, in addition to masks and gloves, for certain personnel.

“We are going above and beyond, but that’s part of the ethos of what we stand for,” said Epstein, who said the new procedures would add significant additional expense to staging the shows. “We’re not here to simply do what is required or what is adequate. That’s not the standard we live by. We learned in Abu Dhabi how to do this better and it just made sense that we would apply those lessons for the nine events we have here in August to make things safer for everyone.”

Epstein said that having the tents outside was a simple but wise idea the UFC eagerly adopted.

“We were requiring everyone to wear masks and socially distance while they waited to be tested, but instead of bringing them into the hotel and doing that, we’ll do it outside,” Epstein said. “That way, if anyone sneezes or coughs, they’re not bringing it into the hotel where COVID could wind up on some surface.”

The primary thing, though, is requiring the negative test results before traveling to Las Vegas. That is why Abu Dhabi was so successful, he said, and he believes it will play a big part in making the events in Las Vegas safer.

In this Saturday, May 9, 2020 photo, photographer Jason Vinlove, right, gets tested for COVID-19 antibodies before covering UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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