UFC 261 takes place Saturday from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida and will go down in front of a sold out crowd. With the event representing the first UFC card held in front of a live crowd since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, UFC president Dana White has informed fans who plan to attend that face masks will not be required.
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“We had to create a bubble so that athletes wouldn’t end up with COVID and all these fights falling out, but the media was being so crazy about the whole COVID thing you had to make the media feel safe,” White explained in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “In Jacksonville, everything is opening up again, even Vegas is gonna be open June 1st. There’s some things that are gonna be set in place, we’re still gonna have a bubble for the athletes and things like that but as far as the fans, you wear a mask or do not wear a mask. It’s up to you, it’s your decision.”
White has spent the pandemic rebelling against cautious attitudes, rarely appearing at UFC events wearing a mask and taking shots at the media for criticism of the promotion’s desire to push forward in the early days of COVID-19 when information on the virus was still lacking. At one point, White and the UFC attempted to move UFC 249 from it’s planned home at Barclays Center in New York to an undisclosed location, later revealed to be Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore, California. Executives from UFC broadcast partner ESPN and parent company Disney reportedly stepped in and forced the UFC to delay the event, which would eventually take place on May 19, 2020 from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
KAMARU USMAN VS. JORGE MASVIDAL
Nine months after colliding on short notice, Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal meet for a second time with the welterweight title once again hanging in the balance, only this time, both the champion and challenger have had ample time to prepare.
Usman earned his third successful title defense earlier this year, steadying himself after getting wobbled early to secure a third-round stoppage win over his former teammate and training partner Gilbert Burns. Now a perfect 13-0 in the UFC — three back of tying Anderson Silva’s record for consecutive victories inside the Octagon — “The Nigerian Nightmare” sought out this second meeting with Masvidal in hopes of silencing his talkative rival once and for all.
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Following a breakout campaign in 2019 where he registered the fastest knockout in UFC history and claimed the BMF title with a third-round stoppage win over Nathan Diaz at UFC 244, the 36-year-old veteran stepped in for Burns last summer at UFC 251, venturing to Fight Island to challenge for championship gold on a week’s notice. Though he came up short, Masvidal has remained ever confident that things would go differently if he had proper time to prepare, and now “Gamebred” gets the chance to back up those words.
The fact that Usman is making a quick return to the Octagon speaks to his commitment to being an active champion and his confidence not only against Masvidal, but in his skills as a whole, and gives him a chance to take an early lead in the Fighter of the Year race should he retain his title this weekend. For Miami’s Masvidal, this is the chance to finally capture the one thing that has eluded him throughout his career — a major championship — and further add to his legend.