COVID-19 turned the world of professional mixed martial arts upside down in 2020, easily securing our FanSided MMA Award for Biggest Scandal of the Year.
Where do we even begin?
We’d give you the whole summary on what made 2020 such an interesting year in the world of mixed martial arts, but it goes without saying that this year was something like we’ve never seen before. Though the devastation drawn from the lives lost from the deadly virus cannot be compared and should not be undermined, combat sports were severely affected by the global pandemic.
As 2020 began COVID-19 wasn’t on anyone’s radar to hinder sports in America, let alone take the FanSided MMA Award for Biggest Scandal of the year. The UFC, MMA’s top promotion, kicked off their 2020 series of pay-per-views at UFC 246 with a headlining bout that featured Cowboy Cerrone and Conor McGregor.
The event was held in front of 19,040 fans at the sold-out T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Little did anyone know just how different the sports landscape would look 12 months later.
Dana White and the UFC won’t let you think anyone but his promotion is to thank for the return of mixed martial arts to worldwide streaming services, and maybe it’s for good reason. Combat returned to the Octagon with UFC 249 on May 9 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. UFC 249 came just shy of two months after UFC Brasilia, their latest event, took place on March 14.
The UFC’s stint in Jacksonville, FL included three events in front of no fans, setting the bar for what was to follow. From there, White held five fights at the UFC Apex before debuting UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. The UFC held 41 events in 2020, 51 including Dana White’s Contender Series, which is comparable to the 42 put on in 2019 and even more than the 39 events that took place in both 2018 and 2017.
Some promotions were not as fortunate. The PFL for example was forced to postpone all 2020 events due to the coronavirus, prompting the promotions women’s lightweight champion Kayla Harrison to take a fight in another promotion.
Bellator put on three successful shows between January and February before taking a five-month hiatus from action and returning in late July. Bellator, much like the UFC did with Fight Island in Abu Dhabi and the UFC Apex, set up shop primarily at one location.
With the exception of four Bellator events that took place in various vacant arenas in some of Europe’s biggest cities, all of the 2020 Bellator events took place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
ONE Championship found themselves in a similar situation. They too canceled multiple events after ONE Championship: King of the Jungle in late February. After five months away from competition, the promotion held six events at the IMPACT Arena in Bangkok, Thailand, before holding their final 10 events of 2020 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore.
Positive COVID-19 tests prove to be the biggest challenge
Needless to say, scheduling became a headache but further complications came when many of the athletes became sick with the coronavirus. From initial rules preventing international fighters from entering the U.S. to fighters’ coaches contracting COVID-19, and to of course the fighters themselves testing positive, no card from top to bottom was safe in 2020.
Events were saved by last minutes heroes, and some of the most highly anticipated matchups were scrapped. COVID-19 created obstacles that we’ve really never seen before, leaving a path of destruction and “what-ifs” in its wake. There’s no telling how or when mixed martial arts will get back to the way it was.