With MLB and NFL teams allowing fans to fill stadiums to 100 percent capacity, it was only a matter of time before Dana White did the same.
The UFC president announced Monday that UFC 261, currently scheduled for April 24, will be held with a full crowd in Jacksonville's VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena (capacity: 15,000 fans):
UFC 261 will mark a return for the promotion to Jacksonville, which hosted the first three UFC events after a two-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. This won't be the first time fans are allowed back into UFC events, as spectators were allowed into three events at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi back in January.
"I have been waiting a year for this day to tell you 'We are back,'" White said. "I just want to say thank you Jacksonville, I love you guys and we will see you soon."
White added that the event will feature three title fights: a rematch between welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal, women's strawweight champion Zhang Weili's defense against Rose Namajunas and women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko against Jessica Andrade.
Usman defeated Masvidal by unanimous decision at UFC 251 in July, though Masvidal agreed to the fight on only a week's notice after Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19.
White didn't reveal the exact date tickets will go on sale, only that it will be "soon" and fans should check Ticketmaster.
Dana White gets his wish
One year ago, White was fighting tooth and nail to hold UFC events while every other American sports league was shutting down operations. After a couple of false starts, Jacksonville provided him the venue to start holding fights again.
The UFC ended up holding three events in Jacksonville, including UFC 249, before exclusively holding events at the promotion's Apex center in Las Vegas and in Abu Dhabi.
Now, Jacksonville is once again the site where White is taking a step forward in his campaign to return to pre-pandemic operations. Florida was reportedly giving permission for full crowds at sports games all the way back in October, and White is now taking advantage of the state's notoriously friendly COVID-19 protocols.
White has been publicly eager to hold UFC events in states that have lifted bans on large gatherings, telling reporters that he wants to go to Texas "ASAP" last week and mentioning he was even willing to relocate UFC 260 on March 27 to the state.
According to Florida's own numbers, COVID-19 cases in the state have fallen to fewer than 5,00 cases per day, though the state's COVID reporting have attracted critics in the past. Still, it seems undeniable that COVID cases are falling nationwide, and the continuing distribution of the vaccines should help that going forward. Not helping would be a mass outbreak in a crowded, enclosed space, like, say, an indoor sports stadium.
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