Bob Arum didn’t watch UFC 249, is busy planning for Top Rank return to live fights
Some of you will be watching the UFC return to action this evening, as UFC 249 will unfold from Jacksonville, Florida, after the company’s day to day boss Dana White moved heaven and earth and raised some hell in getting a card put together.
Some of you also heard that one of the people who was supposed to fight in the Octagon tonight tested positive for coronavirus, and was scratched from the event. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, a 40 year old Florida resident, is fighting COVID-19, as are two of his team, reports indicate.
One person who definitely will not be watching is the Hall of Fame boxing promoter Bob Arum. The Brooklyn born dealmaker, who has been staying off the grid in California and is working on putting together Top Rank’s comeback after the coronavirus forced hiatus.
I put it to him, point blank. Will he watch UFC 249? “No, of course not,” said the 88 year old who started out in the biz in 1966. “It has nothing to do with politics, I just can’t stand it. I don’t think it’s a sport.”
Noted; I was curious, though, is he looking to this Florida event, to see how the operation plays out, because that could affect how Top Rank moves forward?
“No,” Arum continued, “because what UFC has done is not the responsible way to do it. We are doing a return in conjunction with Nevada, the commission, with medical personnel. There will be absolutely no way any of our fighters will test positive. ”
Arum was made aware of Souza positive status. All of us are still trying to get a full-on sense how long the MMAer was on site, how many other people he was in close contact with, how many people the other affected ‘Jacare’ support staff interacted with.
Basically, Arum is saying that when Top Rank comes back with bouts, this sort of clusterfuck won’t occur. “The Bobfather” saw footage of the fighters and Dana White not wearing a mask, at the weigh in, and no, he wasn’t impressed.
The possibility that Jacare infected others in Jacksonville, even the possibility, means to Arum that White’s handling of the promotion was bungled.
“What we’re going to do will take away the possibility (of a ‘rogue’ carrier spreading the virus),” Arum told me. “We’re gonna be in a bubble for a week.”
He laid out more of his vision, for responsible handling of restoring a degree of normalcy to the pugilism sphere, and commerce-business, which needs to occur, to head off economic annihilation. Top Rank is fixing to place fights in Nevada. And outside the “quarantine” hotel, there will be a tent, anyone taking part in the promotion will get tested, in that tent, before proceeding into the hotel.
“They’ll get the results within five hours,” Arum said. They’ll be in a sort of hospitality area while they wait for the result.”
In other words, it has to be done methodically, almost pain-stakingly, with maximum patience, ideally. No, those aren’t attributes typically used to describe the charismatic but often bellicose White.
For himself, he resides in Vegas, has a house there, so he won’t stay in that hotel “bubble” setup, Arum said. He’d have to be tested, and re-tested, if he entered, left, and tried to come back. Speaking to that, we saw a report, from ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, that said UFC did 1,200 testsfor the participants in the Jacksonville event. White isn’t keen on being ultra transparent with such matters, he is selectively anti media often times. So, it leaves those on the outside guessing about his protocol. That means the public and fans are left to wonder if he’s being scrupulous about this re-entry into live fighting offerings.
And yes, that dynamic is being discussed more and more publicly; witness this tweet by Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza.
Arum for sure isn’t always a flag waver about coverage and can get combustible with press. He protects his property and doesn’t back off getting into an exchange if he believes media is not giving Top Rank a fair shake. Him and White have jousted for years, with some iconic clashes. But Arum is laying out, publicly, more specifics than White is.
Arum didn’t go “state shopping,” like White did, hunting for a state that would allow him as much leeway as he seemingly demands. Arum is working with the Nevada oversight bodies for the Top Rank return. The state, he told me, is going to be in possession of testing kits and the ability to process them at the rate of 30,000 a day. I had asked the promoter, would he be able to insure that if Top Rank did a blitz of testing for their return, as UFC did, that this flurry wouldn’t result in other people, or organizations who need a test being shut out?
He is satisfied that Top Rank won’t be like Bigfoot, he said, stomping around, with a “my way or the highway” style which mirrors the personality of White.
“That’s why we are working with Nevada, we don’t want to take away (from hospitals, or people that are in need of a test).”
Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel took White to task for his casual handling of the face-off.
“The official weigh-in, overseen by the commission, was obviously a must. Having the fighters return and pose for a picture across from each other was nothing but a promotional act. It should have been canceled to cut down on interactions. It was a disaster. Souza arrived wearing gloves and a mask. The test result wasn’t in, yet, but he was under suspicion because he’d informed the UFC that a family member might have tested positive for the coronavirus in Orlando, where he’d been living and training. Opponent Uriah Hall also wore a mask and stayed far from Souza. White, standing in between them, however, wasn’t wearing a mask, which was absurd.”
Let’s add “ridiculous.” Wetzel did.
“Worse, as Souza walked up, he immediately fist-bumped White. What? After Souza and Hall departed and the next two fighters were called up, White fist-bumped Michelle Waterson. They even hugged. Waterson then hugged opponent Carla Esparza. While those two will clearly have contact inside the Octagon, hugging at a face-off potentially exposed additional people on Friday. Again, ridiculous. It was additional risk for no reason.”
Disaster, absurd, ridiculous.
Need more? Okamoto wrote on Friday that “(Souza) informed UFC officials upon his arrival about a family member who might have been infected with the coronavirus. At that point, according to UFC, Souza was tested and monitored. He made weight during the official weigh-ins Friday morning and participated in a distanced staredown with Hall, wearing a mask and gloves, before receiving his positive results.” Yes, you read right. The fighter indicated to UFC the possibility that he was infected. Even a minimally educated person knows by now that if a family member is positive then the likelihood that anyone that has been in close proximity to that person stands a much greater chance of being infected. Maybe Souza’s family member doesn’t live with him, or hasn’t been close to him…But since White is so averse to transparency, and looks to tear down media, in the manner of Trump, we just don’t know.
People outside of the media ranks have looked at the UFC event and shook their heads, as well. Epidemiologist Zachary Binney, from Georgia, went out on a limb, publicly.
Back to boxing…
For the record, Arum is looking at the “beginning of June” for Top Rank’s return to live action. That time frame is in play because he went to ESPN, and told the suits there when Top Rank would be comfortable to hit the re-start button. “Monday we will get their response,” Arum said.
And when timing is sorted, he said, we can look forward to probably two shows per week. That “clustering” makes sense, Arum shared, because you want to make best use of the “bubble” quarantine of participants. When fights do re-activate, he said that they will try by and large to put on bouts that had been scheduled to proceed in March, depending on the availability of fighters. You can expect a max of four fights per card, which makes sense, because that lower number better insures control in the testing of the boxers. White’s UFC card has 11 fights on it.
Again, Arum offers details, which are useful and appreciated, so the public (and platform providers, who have to be a bit worried that White’s go it alone style could leave them open to harsh criticism) can feel somewhat relieved that best practises are being adhered to. Here’s how it will likely look: Nevada will have probably the same three judges work each bout. There will be two refs, maybe one inspector in a corner. Each fighter will have a max of two corner people on site. And family and managment and such can root for their guy (or gal), but from a separate space.
My three cents: Transparency during such a time isn’t just welcomed, it’s necessary. We the people have a right to know that people we look up to are being treated well, with respect and dignity and decency and caring. Fighters who put their lives on the line deserve that. It simply cannot be said that anything close to transparency is what White has been offering. I have fingers crossed that everyone fighting on the UFC 249 card and people on site working the show are being looked out for as best as can be. But if we aren’t informed exactly how UFC and White are handling all elements of the promotion as the virus death toll world-wide hits 280,000, then how can we all watch the card in good conscience?
Hey, I know, this is the world of fight sports, and the fighters are engaging in combat. This ain’t darts league…But even though this is “the hurt game,” every person taking part deserves to be treated respectfully, and that means doing everything by the book, using common sense and with input from ‘A’ grade medical advisors.
Seeing Dana White at the face-off sessions, sans mask, was disappointing, though not surprising.
He looks up to Trump, who refuses to wear a mask, maybe out of some misplaced macho posturing.
That is stupid, and irresponsible, and sad, because even if Trump, or White doesn’t get infected, people who follow their lead WILL.
–Michael Woods publishes NYFights.com, calls fights for Facebook Fightnight Live and has hosted the Talkbox podcast since 2016. Arum is never afraid to speak his mind. Listen to the Brooklyn born promoter on the Everlast TALKBOX podcast.