UFC to hold 3 shows without fans in Jacksonville, Florida

 (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The UFC is returning to competition on May 9 for three shows without fans in eight days in Jacksonville, Florida.

The mixed martial arts promotion announced its plans Friday to return to action after postponing and canceling several shows due to the coronavirus pandemic.

UFC 249 will be held May 9 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville with no fans in attendance. The pay-per-view show will still be headlined by Tony Ferguson’s interim lightweight title bout against Justin Gaethje.

UFC President Dana White also plans to hold shows on May 13 and May 16 at the same arena in northern Florida. Only “essential personnel” will be in the arena, according to White.

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“I can’t wait to deliver some great fights for the fans,” White said in a statement. “My team is ready to go and the fighters are excited to get back in there with these back-to-back events.”

The UFC has been out of action since holding a full fight card in an empty arena in Brazil on March 14. But White has been determined to return to action while the rest of the sports world remains shut down.

UFC 249 was almost held on tribal land in central California on April 18, but the show was postponed April 9 at the insistence of ESPN and Disney, the UFC’s broadcast partners. Prominent California state officials were opposed to the UFC’s plan to hold a show there. However, the promotion’s plans have satisfied Florida officials, including the Florida State Boxing Commission, which regulates MMA in the state.

“The UFC organization is a renowned entertainment brand that’s presented a safe and sensible plan to use this Jacksonville location, and we are thrilled to have our city highlighted nationally,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said.

ESPN also is on board with White’s current plan, according to a statement issued by the network: “Sports play an important role in people’s lives and can bring moments of escape in challenging times. We look forward to bringing UFC to fans again.”

The UFC issued a brief statement about its health and safety precautions for the shows in Florida. The promotion says all athletes and staff will be held to “a number of precautionary measures, such as participating in advanced medical screenings and temperature checks and following social distancing guidelines.”

UFC 249 will include two title fights, with bantamweight champ Henry Cejudo defending his belt against former champion Dominick Cruz. The card also includes a heavyweight bout between contenders Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, along with a matchup of veteran contenders Anthony Pettis and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

Only a few UFC fighters have voiced concern about White’s determination to keep fighting amid the pandemic, and most have been publicly eager to return despite the worldwide health concerns. MMA fighters traditionally don’t get paid unless they compete, although Bellator and other promotions have given aid to their fighters in recent weeks after shutting down.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.