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Nevada Commission Approves Return of Combat Sports Events

Nevada is open again for business to combat sports promoters.

The Nevada Athletic Commission voted unanimously to approve new coronavirus health and safety protocols, granting the UFC and Top Rank two requested dates for live fight cards in Las Vegas without fans in attendance, during a Wednesday morning teleconference.

The commission had halted combat sports events in Nevada during an emergency meeting March 14.

“We feel comfortable now because the governor advised (NAC chairman Anthony Marnell) it was his prerogative as to when we’re ready to move forward, and he has the governor’s support provided (promoters) adhere to their operational plan and our protocols,” NAC executive director Bob Bennett said. “The UFC, like Top Rank, has been very aggressive, creative and enthusiastic about providing the best operational plan possible to make the environment as safe as possible. Now we just have to carry that out.” 

Gov. Steve Sisolak included live sporting events without fans in Phase Two of the state’s reopening process in a statement released Tuesday night as long as promoters have health and safety protocols approved through the proper jurisdiction. The UFC and Top Rank cleared that hurdle Wednesday.

The meeting opened with the passage of a plan to safely stage combat sport events in Nevada during the coronavirus pandemic. A detailed five-page set of protocols, which Marnell indicated had been the result of an extensive process, was passed by the commission.

Athletes will be tested upon their arrival at a host hotel where they are required to self-isolate in their room until results are available. Another round of testing the day before the fight is followed by another isolation period until the event begins, a process that will apply to everyone in attendance. The plan also includes contact tracing for any potential positive tests.

“You’ve always heard the Nevada State Athletic Commission say we look out for the health and safety of the fighters,” Bennett said. “We’re not only looking out for the fighters now with COVID-19. We’re looking out for the health and safety of the fighters, their corners, the production people, the announcers, security, our officials and our staff because all of these folks are being tested and quarantined, and they have to go home to their loved ones after the fight. So it’s our responsibility to ensure we provide the best testing available, including quarantining.”

Bennett credited both promoters for working closely with the commission to develop a plan, though Top Rank’s plan isn’t fully completed for boxing cards.

Fighters have begun arriving for the UFC’s first event Saturday. The organization plans to host live events at its Apex facility every Saturday through June 27. Top Rank has secured dates on June 9 and June 11 at the MGM Grand with plans to hold two shows per week.

The UFC had three shows this month in Jacksonville, Florida. Bennett said the commission saw its plan in action and build off what went right while working to correct any issues.

“They got better and better with their protocols at each event,” he said. “Just like when you have a soft opening when you’re opening a casino, you’re going to hopefully get the majority of it right and then constantly improve upon it, and I think that’s exactly what they did. And that’s exactly what we’ll do here. We’ll adhere to the governor’s directives, to the CDC mandates and ensure social distancing and everyone wearing masks. And if they don’t have masks, they’ll be behind plastic shields.”

One of the main criticisms of the UFC’s shows in Florida was when Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza broke protocols by appearing in the vicinity of fighters while awaiting test results, which turned out to be positive.

UFC president Dana White admitted the “optics” of the situation were bad, though he stressed most of the procedures were followed.

Bennett wants to ensure more stringent adherence to the written policies, which would serve as a model for citizens and other sports leagues.

“The regulator and promoters are making a concerted effort to do this in a manner that’s beneficial to everybody that will be inside this closed-system event,” he said. “I think we’re doing a lot of positive things, and not only are we employing these health and safety techniques, but they will also be observed to show the respect and professionalism we want to portray to the audience. The plans need to be employed to the best of our ability, and we want to show that to the fans.”

Saturday’s UFC event, which airs on ESPN, will be headlined by a welterweight bout between Gilbert Burns and former champion Tyron Woodley.

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