The UFC has booked its return.
After having to abruptly postpone their scheduled UFC 249 card earlier this month, the Herald can confirm the world's largest mixed martial arts promotion will be back in action on May 10 (NZ time), with Jacksonville, Florida playing host.
Initially, the card was scheduled to be held on April 19 in Brooklyn but was later moved to tribal land in California where it was not subject to a shelter-in-place order. However, the event was called off at the request of the company's major broadcast partners, ESPN and Disney.
Instead, the pay-per-view event will now play out at Jacksonville's VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in two weeks. With many fighters having bouts called off because five other events have been cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic, the card has been stacked with some of the best fights that didn't take place.
At the top of the bill, lightweight stars Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje will fight for the interim lightweight title, with the winner going on to a unification bout against division champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was unable to travel out of Russia for what was initially scheduled to be a defence against Ferguson.
The co-main event will see bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo put his title on the line for the first time, taking on former champion Dominick Cruz, who makes his return to the octagon after injuries kept him sidelined for almost four years.
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Among the other fights on the card is the highly anticipated match up between heavyweight knockout artists Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, a welterweight bout between fan-favourites Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis, as well as a strawweight bout between Carla Esparza and Michelle Waterson which carries implications for the division's title picture.
Florida became an appealing option for the UFC following their most recent cancellation, with the WWE being allowed to film professional wrestling shows from its performance centre in Orlando. Earlier this month, the state's Governor Ron DeSantis issued an order regarding essential businesses, which included "employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience – including any athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including services supporting such production – only if the location is closed to the general public."
The UFC also confirmed two more events, on May 14 and 17 (NZ time). All three events will be held in Jacksonville.
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UFC boss Dana White has remained determined to find a way to put on events during the coronavirus pandemic, going as far as securing an island to host fights that involve those on the roster outside of the United States.
After having to cancel the April 19 date, White told ESPN the island was expected to be ready around June, with the infrastructure being put in place.
"We will be the first sport back," White said earlier this month. "Fight island is real. It's a real thing. The infrastructure's being built right now, and that's really going to happen. And it will be on ESPN."
UFC 249 card
Tony Ferguson v Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title
Co-main: Henry Cejudo (c) v Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight championship
Heavyweight bout: Francis Ngannou v Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Featherweight bout: Jeremy Stephens v Calvin Kattar
Welterweight bout: Donald Cerrone v Anthony Pettis
Heavyweight bout: Greg Hardy v Yorgan de Castro
Heavyweight bout: Aleksei Oleinik v Fabricio Werdum
Light heavyweight bout: Ryan Spann v Sam Alvey
Strawweight bout: Carla Esparza v Michelle Waterson
Middleweight bout: Uriah Hall v Jacare Souza
Welterweight bout: Vicente Luque v Niko Price
Featherweight bout: Bryce Mitchell v Charles Rosa