MIKE BROWN WAS sitting at a desk in Jorge Masvidal‘s Las Vegas resort room. It was July 5, hours earlier than Brown was scheduled to accompany Masvidal on a flight to “Combat Island” for UFC 251.

Whereas Brown, one in every of American Prime Crew’s head MMA coaches, was on his laptop computer, Masvidal’s supervisor, Abe Kawa, entered the room and requested to talk with Brown privately.

Kawa broke the information: The UFC had known as and mentioned Brown examined optimistic for COVID-19. The coach wouldn’t be capable to make the journey to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to nook Masvidal’s welterweight title problem in opposition to Kamaru Usman in the primary occasion.

Brown, shocked by the circumstances, needed to stroll again to his resort room to name Masvidal on his cellphone and let his shut pal of 13 years know he wouldn’t be there for maybe probably the most vital battle of his profession. Brown, not sure if he was contagious, was afraid to inform Masvidal in particular person.

“That was crushing,” Brown informed ESPN. “It was like the sensation of your largest battle falling off. It is by far the worst state of affairs I’ve ever gone via. Heartbreaking for me.”

Brown’s expertise has grow to be extra widespread since fight sports activities have resumed through the COVID-19 pandemic. Fighters corresponding to potential UFC welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns have missed major occasions and big paydays. Fighters are unbiased contractors who receives a commission solely after they compete. Coaches get a share of that pay, and have been pulled from significant bouts due to optimistic assessments.

And whereas the UFC and different promotions have enacted protocols that emphasize social distancing and testing at occasion websites, the most important drawback dealing with fight sports activities is the unfold of the virus at gyms, the place social distancing is not possible when fighters practice with one another and assets are slim.

JacksonWink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which boasts over 40 fighters from world wide, together with mild heavyweight champ Jon Jones and Holly Holm, is doing temperature checks and requiring latest destructive COVID-19 check outcomes to enter the power. Co-coach Greg Jackson mentioned just one particular person from his health club has examined optimistic, however he’s beneath no delusions.

“Once you’re coping with our numbers of fighters, it’s completely inevitable,” Jackson mentioned. “We simply need to mitigate it as a lot as we are able to.

“It may actually be taking place as we converse.”


SAYIF SAUD CALLED a staff assembly at his Fortis MMA health club final month, one in every of a number of he has performed for the reason that begin of the pandemic. Saud had simply returned to Dallas from Las Vegas, the place Fortis fighter Ramiz Brahimaj was alleged to compete on the UFC’s June 27 card. The bout was canceled throughout battle week when one in every of Brahimaj’s cornermen examined optimistic for COVID-19. Saud learn his fighters and coaches the riot act.

“I informed them, anyone that f—s up somebody’s battle, you are gonna have issues with me,” mentioned Saud, the proprietor and head coach of Fortis. “Any sort of additional habits — no going to the bars, none of that s—. No matter relationships you are having, it’s a must to perceive the duty that it’s a must to the staff.”

Fortis, like many fight sports activities gyms, has made main adjustments to its procedures for the reason that begin of the pandemic, and people proceed to evolve because the variety of coronavirus circumstances rises in Texas. Fortis now requires temperature checks on the door and the submission of a destructive COVID-19 check as soon as every week for fighters. Throughout off hours, the employees cleans the health club with a fogging machine geared up with disinfectant. The overall members are stored separate from the professional fighters and the Brazilian jiu-jitsu courses — which require shut contact — have been decreased from 15 per week to 3.

Final weekend, JacksonWink MMA shut down for just a few days for a deep cleansing, Jackson mentioned. The fighters are break up into “pods” — they practice with solely 4 or 5 others in the identical weight class with one coach. The thought is to restrict publicity if somebody has the coronavirus.

“You hope for one of the best and do every little thing you’ll be able to — and even with that, you continue to must get fortunate.”

Dan Lambert
Proprietor of American Prime Crew

JacksonWink, which is open solely to fighters and never the general public, is exclusive in that it has dorms hooked up to the health club. There are execs and cons to that, Jackson mentioned. On the plus facet, these fighters don’t make a lot contact with the final inhabitants and should not going dwelling to their households. However there’s additionally a higher threat for an outbreak with so many individuals dwelling shut collectively. Jackson mentioned there are plans to isolate anybody who has signs or assessments optimistic.

“We need to observe the rules,” Jackson mentioned. “In the event that they get it, they’re remoted. In the event that they’re understanding with COVID, everyone else will get COVID and nobody can battle.”

American Prime Crew in Coconut Creek, Florida, the house of stars like Masvidal and UFC ladies’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, has but to reopen its doorways to the general public, and solely fighters who’re signed for upcoming fights are allowed in, proprietor Dan Lambert mentioned. The ATT children program has been shut down for good. Lambert mentioned the staff is promoting off 5 vans used for the staff’s after-school program.

ATT now has three totally different firms coming to the health club weekly to manage COVID-19 testing. Lambert mentioned he’s at the moment in talks about shopping for a machine that does its personal coronavirus testing evaluation. Regardless of the precautions, ATT has had a number of latest COVID circumstances, together with Brown’s. Pedro Munhoz was alleged to battle former champ Frankie Edgar on the UFC’s July 15 card in Abu Dhabi, however Munhoz’s coronavirus check outcomes got here again optimistic. Munhoz was rebooked to battle Edgar at UFC 252 on Aug. 15 in Las Vegas.

Boxing has had comparable issues. WBO junior light-weight champion Jamel Herring was alleged to defend his title in opposition to Jonathan Oquendo on a July 2 Prime Rank card in Las Vegas, however Herring examined optimistic for COVID-19. The bout was rebooked for July 14 — and Herring examined optimistic once more, even after a destructive check in between, and was yanked.

Primarily based on the Herring state of affairs, Prime Rank has determined to not reschedule fights after a optimistic COVID check for not less than six weeks, a supply informed ESPN. The UFC has not but taken a measure like that, however UFC COO Lawrence Epstein informed ESPN earlier this month {that a} testing program for fighters in coaching camp — earlier than they fly to the fight-week bubble — might be within the offing.

“We’re any means we are able to to get higher,” Epstein mentioned. “If it is sensible, after all we’re gonna do it.”

Jorge Capetillo, a cutman who gained fame for closing Tyson Fury’s huge lower throughout a 2019 battle in opposition to Otto Wallin, needed to shut down his Las Vegas boxing health club earlier this month after he examined optimistic for the coronavirus. Capetillo mentioned he had a excessive fever for 5 days. And final week, with nobody within the facility, Capetillo TM Boxing Gymnasium was robbed.

“It is loopy, clearly I did not need any outbreaks within the health club,” Capetillo mentioned. “I needed to be chargeable for all of the folks there. My spouse informed me we’re shutting this health club down for not less than 15 days. So we put just a little signal letting folks know that we will be in quarantine, and that we will be closed.

“They simply broke in [July 13]. They took gloves, they took just a few issues that we promote there, and merchandise. It is powerful.”


MASVIDAL WOULD NOT have been within the welterweight title bout at UFC 251 on July 11 had Burns not examined optimistic for COVID-19. Burns’ check outcomes got here again July three and he was not allowed to make the journey to Abu Dhabi for the pay-per-view headliner in opposition to Usman.

Burns trains at Sanford MMA in South Florida, a staff that’s sponsored by Sanford Well being, an built-in healthcare firm. Sanford has taken measures to maintain COVID-19 out. The staff has two gyms — one in Deerfield Seaside and one in Fort Lauderdale — and solely fighters who’re signed and getting ready for a battle can entry the Deerfield Seaside location.

Brad Reeves, the Sanford MMA staff physician and a sports activities drugs specialist, mentioned the staff has administered near 100 assessments to fighters, coaches and employees. Teams are being separated into three fighters plus one coach and distanced across the perimeter of the gyms, Reeves mentioned.

Even with these procedures, Sanford has nonetheless had 5 fighters, together with Burns and ONE Championship double-champion Aung La N Sang, and one coach check optimistic for the coronavirus. Sanford fighter Jared Gordon flew to Abu Dhabi for the UFC’s July 15 present with no cornermen as a result of everybody who was scheduled to be in his nook had COVID-19.

Geography, Reeves mentioned, is a significant drawback for Sanford. Based on the CDC, Florida averaged over 10,000 new COVID circumstances per day over the past seven days. Reeves mentioned he’s in discussions with a number of high Sanford fighters with high-profile bouts arising about uprooting their coaching camps to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the place Sanford is predicated.

“If I may snap my fingers and everyone thought it will be a good suggestion, I might uproot this whole staff — coaches, every little thing — and transfer them to the coaching amenities we’ve in Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” Reeves mentioned. “And preserve these individuals who have scheduled fights to do their total camp with our science and our athletic coaching amenities that we’ve in Sioux Falls. I might really feel significantly better about guys not getting hit with optimistic assessments simply due to that geographical subject.”

One other drawback is the accuracy of testing. Reeves mentioned Burns examined destructive for the coronavirus two days earlier than flying to Las Vegas, the place he was examined by the UFC and his outcomes got here again optimistic. Gordon examined optimistic for COVID-19 in his first check in Abu Dhabi, however then three extra assessments got here again destructive, clearing him.

These should not remoted incidents. Lambert mentioned he had Brown and Munhoz get examined for COVID-19 after they returned to Florida after testing optimistic. Each assessments got here again destructive. Brown mentioned he felt some signs when he discovered he was optimistic, however he is nonetheless undecided he truly had the virus. Munhoz was asymptomatic.

New UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo initially examined optimistic earlier than leaving his native Brazil two weeks in the past. His supervisor, Wallid Ismail, mentioned Figueiredo examined optimistic two months earlier, and so they imagine the latest check produced a false optimistic. A subsequent check was destructive and Figueiredo handed a number of extra assessments in Abu Dhabi. Figueiredo was cleared to battle Joseph Benavidez this previous Saturday and completed Benavidez by first-round submission to win the title.

In boxing, Herring had two optimistic assessments with a destructive one in between. Final month, budding star Mikaela Mayer was pulled from a Prime Rank boxing match because of a optimistic COVID-19 check, however then examined destructive from a check she took three days later at dwelling in Colorado.

“That is the battle proper now, as a result of there’s nonetheless a lot that we’re unaware of by way of which assessments are extra correct,” Reeves mentioned. “What half does the antibodies play? Proper now, it performs none. What half does earlier historical past of publicity play?”

Whereas details about the coronavirus stays fluid, promotions preserve cranking out battle playing cards. And fighters and coaches must do their jobs — on the health club and contained in the ring or cage — as a way to receives a commission.

Wooden is the proprietor of Syndicate and coaches Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Joanne Calderwood, amongst others. He mentioned he examined optimistic for the coronavirus two weeks in the past earlier than one in every of his fighters, Natan Levy, was set to compete for the LFA promotion. Levy was pulled from the bout.

On the time, Wooden did not have any vital signs, however when he returned dwelling to Las Vegas, he had misplaced his sense of style and scent. Except for that odd sensation, Wooden mentioned he simply appears like he has a chilly. COVID-19 was one thing he knew he’d in all probability get contemplating his career.

“What selection do we actually have?” Wooden mentioned. “Coronavirus or no coronavirus, if combating is your profession, you have gotta f—in’ battle. Ninety-seven p.c [of fighters] do not have insurance coverage. Most of them do not have the rest to fall again on. It is like battle, otherwise you’re f—ed.

“All these fighters, that is our jobs and careers. They’re counting on coaches and gymnasiums. You are combating for a paycheck loads of instances — simply to outlive.”

Fortuitously, nobody else in Masvidal’s touring social gathering examined optimistic for COVID-19 regardless of Brown’s outcomes. Masvidal ended up shedding to Usman by unanimous determination at UFC 251 on July 11 in a card that was one of many largest in UFC historical past, surpassing even a few of Conor McGregor major occasions, in accordance with UFC president Dana White. Masvidal took dwelling the most important purse of his profession.

“If Jorge acquired sick and could not have completed this battle that did one million pay-per-views and acquired him a pleasant payday, that may be fairly catastrophic,” Lambert mentioned. “You hope for one of the best and do every little thing you’ll be able to — and even with that, you continue to must get fortunate.”

Steve Kim contributed to this report.





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