When the UFC returns to action in North America’s top sports on Saturday night with an à la carte program in Florida, Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje know they can do nothing temporarily.

“We have to go there and keep the sport alive,” Ferguson said Tuesday after landing in Jacksonville and being quickly screened for COVID-19.

The 24 fighters of UFC 249 realize that they added another risk to their already dangerous professions when they agreed to compete in the midst of the growing pandemic of coronavirus. Although the UFC has strict safety protocols, no one can be sure of the dangers of promoting mixed martial arts coming back from an eight-week break with three shows over eight days in Jacksonville.

Ferguson and Gaethje believe their risks are outweighed by the sporting awards they will win and the example they will set when they fight for the interim UFC title in a fanless arena.

We are going to bring a sense of normalcy to people, ”Gaethje said in a telephone interview. “I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s an opportunity to inspire. People have to be inspired right now. They can’t be depressed (or) emotional because they can’t control what’s going on ” at the moment. We have to go through there. They have to be inspired and we can do it. “

“Honestly, I had no reservations,” added Ferguson. “Fighting is very dangerous, so I think everything will be fine.”

The UFC never wanted to stop competition as the pandemic unfolded, and President Dana White was never left without fighters ready to compete, desperately fighting to keep the cards at the center of the war. unprecedented public health crisis. Now that White has found a state and sports commission ready to host it, UFC 249 will be followed by additional performances on May 13, May 16, and possibly May 23 in Jacksonville.

“It is not very common for you to fight for a world title, much less in a pandemic where there is no sport and you will be the only one on television,” said Gaethje. “You must face your fears. You must go out and take risks when they arise … We have to put our checks in our pocket, and we have to put a check in the pocket of every employee in the UFC that hosts this event, and we can encourage people who don’t give up yet. “

While many athletes around the world have expressed concern about being forced to practice their sports in such uncertain times, UFC fighters, who generally don’t get paid unless they compete, have to return almost unanimously.

Even seasoned veterans like former champion Dominick Cruz have seized the opportunity despite being aware of the health risks involved. Like Gaethje, Cruz sees UFC 249 as an opportunity to overcome fear.

“Realistically, anyone can get this virus,” said Cruz, who will return from a three-year cage absence to fight bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo on Saturday. “I think that’s partially the point, is to understand that anyone can understand this, but you can’t freeze when you see something that’s scary.” You must take precautions, be as safe as possible, but live your life. That’s what I’m doing.”

Some MMA fighters prefer to train in busy gyms with multiple teammates, while others train only with their coaches and training partners. The necessary changes in the past two months haven’t bothered Cejudo, a gold medal-winning Olympic fighter and two-division UFC champion.

Cruz feels particularly strong about the symbolic importance of the UFC’s return to competition. The former 135-pound champion wants the belt to be reused as an instrument for social change, even citing Muhammad Ali’s war activism against Vietnam as his inspiration.

“What is the value of championship belts or Olympic gold medals when there are 33 million Americans who have just applied for unemployment benefits and have been unable to see their families since mid-March?” Cruz said. “There is no vaccine against COVID-19, there is probably no end in sight.” So I’ve been (contemplating) the question of what is the value of belts or even Olympic gold medals, unless I use it to make a difference in the life and service of humanity. “

But after listening to Cruz’s passionate thoughts on the state of the world during their joint telephone interview, Cejudo returned the discussion to the usual levels of MMA speech.

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