The first fight at UFC Brasilia sounded like most opening bouts: two lesser-profile fighters finding their way in the top mixed martial arts promotion with little to no one in the seats making noise.
The last fight of the night, the main event, the one that gets all the headlines, the one they pay to see, sounded the same way because no one was there to see it. Or any of the 11 bouts before that one inside Ginasio Nilson Nelson arena in Brasilia, Brazil's capital, where earlier in the week the governor issued a ban on large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Such was this particular UFC fight night, one of a small handful of professional sporting events still taking place anywhere on planet Earth as countries aim to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Throughout the past several days, as "social distancing" became a standard part of our lexicons, pro leagues and colleges all across the world either canceled or suspended their seasons for an indefinite period.
So unique was the concept of a sporting event taking place, UFC announcer Brendan Fitzgerald's first two words to open the ESPN broadcast were "Live sports."
As for fighting in a big arena with zero fans, it eventually felt normal to watch, like reading subtitles when watching a movie. There were certain reminders during the broadcast that the arena was fan-free, especially in the main event.
Charles Oliveira submitted Kevin Lee early in the third round of their lightweight bout, then kept trying to grapple after referee Mike Beltran stopped the bout. “Watch the video, you tapped," Beltran could be heard saying to Lee. It was the seventh straight win for Oliveira and his UFC-record 14th submission win.
You also clearly could hear the heavy breathing from light heavyweight Johnny Walker in the second round of his unanimous-decision loss to Nikita Krylov. And the echoes of a referee, announcer or cornerman trailing off into the empty arena when they shouted or spoke louder than usual.
Renato Moicano also could be heard chirping at Damir Hadzovic after submitting him via rear-naked choke in 44 seconds, ending a run of nine straight fights Saturday that went the distance. Afterward, the Brazilian wasn't thrilled about the empty arena.
“I’m very frustrated because today, I fought in my hometown and I don’t see nobody,” said Moicano, a new father. “I didn’t see familiar faces. I didn’t see my family here.”
Other fighters didn't seem to mind competing in the environment.
“The fighting was not that much different,” said Bea Malecki, who won a unanimous decision over Veronica Macedo in the opening bout. “It was just walking in that was a bit weird.”
“I just came for the fight, so I don’t care about it,” said Czech Republic flyweight David Dvorak, who won his UFC debut by unanimous decision over Bruno Silva.
In the welterweight co-main event, Gilbert Burns dropped Demian Maia with a left hook and then moved in to finish him with strikes at 2:34 of the first round.
In a flyweight bout that could determine the next title contender, Brandon Moreno defeated Jussier Formiga by unanimous decision. “Mick, please, watch again the fight and tell me why I don’t deserve to fight for the title next,” Moreno said, directing his comments to UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard. “Please, tell me. I have a pen in the locker room. I can give you a pen if you want.”
The UFC's next event is scheduled for next Saturday in London. UFC president Dana White said Thursday night that the event would go on as scheduled, but that may come into in question after Saturday afternoon when U.S. President Donald Trump extended the U.S. travel ban to Europe to now include the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The UFC had moved its events on March 28 (Columbus, Ohio) and April 11 (Portland, Oregon) to its UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas to be contested without fans in attendance. Those also remain in question after the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Saturday voted to rebuke all combat sports licenses between now and March 25 when it next will meet to decide about future events.
UFC Brasilia results
Charles Oliveira sub. Kevin Lee (guillotine choke), round 3, 0:28.
Gilbert Burns def. Demian Maia via TKO (strikes), round 1, 2:34
Renato Moicano sub. Damir Hadzovic (rear-naked choke), round 1, 0:44
Nikita Krylov def. Johnny Walker by unanimous decision, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28
Francisco Trinaldo def. John Makdessi by unanimous decision, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28.
Brandon Moreno def. Jussier Formiga by unanimous decision, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28.
Amanda Ribas def. Randa Markos by unanimous decision, 30-26, 30-25, 30-25.
Elizeu Dos Santos def. Aleksei Kunchenko by unanimous decision, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28.
Enrique Barzola and Rani Yahya fight to a majority draw, 29-28, 28-28, 28-28.
Maryna Moroz def. Mayra Bueno Silva by unanimous decision, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28.
David Dvorak def. Bruno Silva by unanimous decision, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28.
Bea Malecki def. Veronica Macedo by unanimous decision, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28.