The sports world appears to be many months away from returning to normal, but Saturday will bring one step in that direction, with UFC poised to become the first major American enterprise to return to action.
For sports fans who are not fans of mixed martial arts, UFC 249 mostly has symbolic importance. For fans of UFC, it is a major milestone. For fans of UFC who do not even care for other spectator sports, it is everything,
Enter Matt Serra, a UFC Hall of Famer who grew up in East Meadow, still lives in Nassau County and is a co-host of the podcast “UFC Unfiltered.”
“Personally, I can’t wait,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having a normal-type Saturday night.”
Before continuing, it should be noted that Serra’s tone was intense enthusiasm, Long Island-style.
“I don’t watch any sports; I’m just being honest,” he said. “Really, I would not know who was in the Super Bowl unless somebody told me. My kids, they danced at Citi Field, and once they’re done, I’m not staying for the game.
“I just don’t like it. I never grew up on it. But one thing I do absolutely love is mixed martial arts, specifically the UFC. I enjoy everything about it. That’s why I have a dream job, now that I’m done [competing], with the podcast.
“I tell my wife it’s my job to watch the fights. I enjoy it. I get the food. I’ve been there. I’ve got the whole nostalgia thing where I’ve lived it. It’s the one sport I truly love.”
Not that Serra and other UFC fans can be picky at this point, but he endorsed the quality of Saturday’s fights, with the main card being streamed by ESPN+ on a pay-per-view basis.
The main event is an interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje.
“This card coming up on May 9, it’s sick,” he said. “So it’s going to feel great, man.”
Serra is not surprised that UFC president Dana White found a way to arrange the event, which will be held at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, with no fans present. It is the first of three UFC cards in eight days in that city.
“Dana, that’s what he does, he puts on a show,” Serra said. “It’s good. It’s much needed.”
To make UFC’s return stick, White must ensure the safety of the participants and support personnel during the COVID-19 epidemic. MMA fighters operate in far tighter quarters than, say, pro golfers, who plan to return to courses next month.
Serra, 45, who last fought in 2010, said he would not have hesitated to compete in this environment.
“I’d be thankful to be able to put food on the table doing something I love,” he said. “I always look at things in a positive light. If I had to train during quarantine — good. I don’t want to be able to go out anyway. The most I’d do is hit a movie here or there. But I don’t want to have to go to a restaurant.
“You can’t do anything anyway, so train like [expletive] Clubber Lang in 'Rocky III,' you know what I mean? It’s a quarantine. What are you going to do?”
What about safety concerns?
“If I’m looking at myself as a fighter, I’d be like, ‘Dude, thank God, man. I can work,’” he said. “Listen, I understand the concerns, I really do, like the hospital afterward, if somebody gets hurt. I understand. That’s all a concern. I’m not saying I have the answers for anything. I’m just saying if you ask me as a fighter, yes, I would 100% do it.
“It’s difficult, but there are ways to do it. There are ways to train and whatnot.”
Serra runs Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools in Levittown and Huntington, and like many owners of non-essential small businesses, he is faced with paying rent at a time when he has been forced to shut his doors.
He said he has not received a government-backed loan to help with expenses.
“I find it ridiculous that I’m supposed to be paying rent,” he said. “I’m not allowed to use the schools. I’m not allowed to open them. I understand the reason why, but man, the government’s got to help us out with this.”
He said the two schools represent his “retirement money.”
“I put my fight money into that,” he said. “I love my schools. I love teaching. I change lives. But it’s [a problem] that the whole world is in.
“I know it sounds strange, but I miss strangling people. I miss my normal life of doing my podcast, taking my kids to school and being at my schools three days a week, teaching everybody, just having a good time.”
He added, “When you’re used to fighting in a cage, nothing scares you. We’ll be all right.”
Serra said the only good thing about the lockdown has been spending quality family time with his wife, Ann, and their three daughters, ages 11, 9 and 6.
“It’s bike rides and Uno games,” he said. “We hit Brands bike shop in Wantagh, and it’s been there for  years. We don’t do the trails because it’s too crowded, but we go all around town. It’s nice.”
He said his daughters likely will remember this experience “as a positive thing.”
“They’re enjoying the family time,” he said. “But I feel bad for my wife because she’s doing that online schooling. I’m not helping them out with the Common Core, I’ll tell you that.”