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UFC announces three fight cards without fans in Florida in May

The Ultimate Fighting Championship remains determined to quickly return to live action amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, announcing three live fight cards to be held in Florida in an eight-day period next month.

The mixed martial arts organization plans to stage the postponed UFC 249 on May 9, as well as cards on May 13 and May 16, at the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville. They will all be held without a live audience and with only essential UFC personnel present.

UFC 249 will be headlined by an interim lightweight championship fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. It will be broadcast by ESPN networks, including direct-to-consumer platform ESPN+.

“They want to fight. People are hitting us up and want to fight,” UFC president Dana White told ESPN. “We’re putting together three cards in a week. People who want to fight are going to get fights.”

White added: “Ferguson vs. Gaethje will be one of the most violent fights you’ll ever see, I can guarantee that. They’re two of the best in the world, and the winner will fight Khabib [Nurmagomedov] for the title. Khabib will be back in September-October.”

The state of Florida has deemed live sports an essential service during the ongoing health crisis, which has also paved the way for a reprise of ‘The Match’ between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in May, a made-for-TV event which will include legendary National Football League quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

“As we move step-by-step on the path toward economic recovery, we are proud to host these UFC events,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said in a statement. “The UFC organization is a renowned entertainment brand that’s presented a safe and sensible plan to use this Jacksonville location, and we are thrilled to have our city highlighted nationally on ESPN and ESPN+.”

UFC’s scheduled return comes after White was pressured by the most senior executives at both the Walt Disney Company and ESPN to initially call off UFC 249, which had been scheduled for April 18 at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort near Fresno, California.

ESPN is on board with the resumption of action. “Sports play an important role in people’s lives and can bring moments of escape in challenging times. We look forward to bringing UFC to fans again,” the sports network said in a statement.

White is also scheduling a fight card on May 23 in an unspecified location, while he says his planned “Fight Island” will be up and running in June.