Sports fans itching to see the sporting landscape return to normal will get their wish next month after the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced on Monday that they will hold their first full capacity event in over a year in the Sunshine State.
In a video posted on Twitter, UFC President Dana White dropped the huge bombshell, saying the upcoming card would take place on April 24 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville Florida. The PPV, unlike other sporting events, will allow 15,000 fans to attend.
“What’s up everybody, UFC president Dana White here. And I have been waiting a year for this day, to tell you – we are back,” White said in a video. “UFC 261 on April 24th will be in Jacksonville, Florida with a full house of fans. Full capacity at the Five Star Veterans Memorial Arena. And you know I’m bringing an incredible card.”
WE ARE BACK!!!!!!#UFC261 April 24th. Jacksonville, FL. FULL CROWD. pic.twitter.com/5dy7wb4OWE
— danawhite (@danawhite) March 16, 2021
White also teased the massive card, which includes three title fights featuring Valentina Shevchenko defending her women’s flyweight title against former strawweight champ Jessica Andrade, Weili Zhang defending her women’s strawweight title against former champ Rose Namajunas, and a surprising main event that will see a rematch from last July when Kamaru Usman defends his middleweight belt against BMF champion and Florida’s own Jorge Masvidal.
“This is a stacked card in front of 15,000 UFC fans,” White exclaimed. “Ladies a gentleman, we are back!”
While several sports continue to limit fans, the UFC will be the first major sports organization to see fans return without placing a limit on attendees. The news is not surprising given the promotion’s perseverance through the pandemic. Unlike the majority of other sports, the UFC chose not to cut back on its events, instead, thinking outside the box to find creative ways to broadcast fights without putting its athletes or fans in danger. The UFC was the first major sport to hold an event during the outbreak in May of last year. Many of its prior fights were held in isolated locations with reduced fans, such as the UFC Apex in Las Vegas or Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
April 24, however, looks to be the UFC’s coming-out party, as the mixed martial arts promotion eyes a return to form after COVID-19 put a hold on live audiences in 2020. During this time last year, UFC 249 was scheduled to take place on April 18 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York but was postponed shortly after due to the pandemic. The event was eventually rescheduled, with Florida hosting the event on May 9 after Governor Ron DeSantis allowed the UFC to conduct the fights safely behind closed doors.
The UFC will once again call on the Governor to set a precedent and host the first packed sporting event since the virus swept through the United States. Fortunately for White, DeSantis has taken a more measured approach to the pandemic, choosing to reopen much of the state and not implement strict lockdowns that have had detrimental effects on other states like California and New York.
Following White’s announcement, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry touted the event on Twitter, promising to host a safe sporting venue.
@danawhite, @GovRonDeSantis, and I will continue to demonstrate that Florida is poised to safely host signature sporting events watched globally. Welcome back to Jacksonville 👊🏻 @ufc . Let’s go @danawhite https://t.co/M8UQqz5cID
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) March 16, 2021
Speaking to The Capitolist after the news broke, Curry also praised DeSantis’s handling of the virus and applauded White for finding ways to hold safe UFC events during the mass contagion.
“Thanks to the strong leadership of Governor DeSantis and his smart and safe approach throughout COVID-19, Florida is poised to host signature sporting events,” Curry remarked. “The UFC and its president, Dana White, have demonstrated the ability to safely host fans at multiple events that have taken place during the pandemic in Florida, Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi. For the thousands of UFC fans who are ready to return to world-class sports entertainment, we are proud to welcome you back to Jacksonville.”
Tickets have yet to go on sale but are expected to sell out quickly, as hardline fight fans have been waiting on bated breath to see when the UFC would allow fans to watch their fights in person. The upcoming PPV could also see a big boost to Florida’s rebounding tourism industry as the promotion is home to a hardcore fanbase — over 300 million worldwide — and a broadcast reach of 1.1 billion TV households.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis observed how important the event is for the state that thrives on the hospitality industry, noting that Florida continues to be out in front thanks to efforts made by the Governor.
“News that Jacksonville will host UFC 261 in April is a huge win for Florida and MMA fans everywhere. Just as we showed the world during the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500, hosting a major sporting event in the Sunshine State is a true testament to the leadership of Governor DeSantis and further proof that Florida is open for business,” Patronis told The Capitolist. “I look forward to cheering on amazing athletes like Jorge Masvidal as we continue to support the state’s vaccination efforts and deliver a knockout blow to this pandemic. Dana White and UFC fans know what I’ve been saying all year — Florida is for winners!”
Welcome to Jacksonville, #UFC261! This is amazing news & a testament to the leadership of @GovRonDeSantis. I’ll be cheering on @GamebredFighter as he takes on @USMAN84kg. Thanks to the @ufc, @danawhite, and Mayor @lennycurry for proving once again that Florida is for winners! pic.twitter.com/9l9Pr4RGw7
— Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis) March 16, 2021
April’s PPV could mark the return of full capacity crowds in sports — at least in Florida. On Tuesday, the Jacksonville Jaguars launched their season ticket renewals, saying they expect to have a full capacity crowd at TIAA Bank Field for the 2021 season.