On June 27, UFC stars Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker put on a show in the last UFC Fight Night event before the company ships off to Fight Island in July.
The lightweight main event continued a consistent trend of five-star bouts that have shown up since early May, as the two fighters left it all in the Octagon and sent viewers into a frenzy both in the UFC APEX arena and on social media.
Unfortunately for the UFC, those battles inside the cage have been taking place in front of no fans, as typical audience members practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many will see the situation as a major downside, especially considering the loss in revenue as it relates to ticket sales, merchandise, concessions and other considerations that a live event would bring in. But, diehard fight fans may see it all as a positive when it comes to overall fight quality, and the added spotlight placed on each individual that steps into the Octagon.
Why would a sport that places a major emphasis on crowd reactions and what fans want to see be better off without fans in attendance, you may ask? There are a few factors at play to consider to understand the whole picture.
For one, like a sense being heightened when someone gets stuck in a dark room, the technical aspects of each fight have been showcased in a big way since the UFC first came back into the limelight with UFC 249 in May.
In normal circumstances, fighters are rarely able to fully hear and communicate with their coaches in their respective corners in the middle of a fight, given the amount of cheering, booing and overall yelling from those sitting in the stands on any given night.
Take away those fans, and you get the closest thing possible to a fighter going through his technique during a sparring session in his own gym.
Fighters are able to actually absorb directions from their coaches, and can then translate them into action during a bout and show off their true peak performance in the process.
Then, with no one in attendance, you take away the immense pressure that fans would usually create. As a result, fighters are able to make smarter decisions, and fight with their heads, rather than their hearts.
With a higher fight IQ and the ability to evaluate calculated risks, the stars of every bout are able to put on the clinics fans have become used to over the last three months. “Fight of the Year” candidates like Poirer vs. Hooker, Justin Gaethje vs. Tony Ferguson, Josh Emmett vs. Shane Burgos. While there’s no way to know for sure, some of those fights may not have turned out to be the same quality with fans in attendance.
Away from a technique perspective, the broadcast elements get strengthened, as well. The smack of a hard-hitting head kick or right hook landing jumps right into your living room, along with the verbal jabs between fighters as they stare each other down in the center of the Octagon.
Everyone gets a clear listen to what fighters and coaches are talking about in each of their corners, like Justin Gaethje’s head coach Trevor Wittman telling him to avoid getting complacent in arguably the biggest fight of his career against Tony Ferguson in May.
Or, you may hear Poirier agreeing with something Michael Bisping said on the broadcast in the middle of a round.
It’s a unique opportunity in the MMA world, especially when breaks in between rounds are typically spent watching highlights from the prior five minutes and listening to the crowd’s reactions to heavy hits or big misses.
Now, in this variation of the sport, fans can get some more perspective from coaches, and learn more about what MMA is all about in the process.
Everyone has their own preference with a variety of things: a favorite food, movie, genre of music, phone carrier, or even something as simple as the volume of the radio in a car. UFC fights are no different, and nothing will ever please every single fan that the company has.
So, some may be chomping at the bit for fans to once again be able to watch fights in person, whether it’s solely in Las Vegas or in arenas around the world. But, there will similarly be some that are left disappointed when crowds start to fill those venues again, and will miss the memories created by a unique period of the UFC’s history: the era of no fans.