“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” — Arthur Ashe
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 300,000 lives across the globe since it was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December. Economies have been ravaged, industries brought to their knees, businesses shuttered forever, entire families ripped apart. The true extent of the damage it has done will not be known for years. Through all the hardships, sacrifice has become a common theme, shining a light on heroes who might have otherwise remained anonymous. Physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, first responders and various other medical professionals on the front lines have trudged into emergency rooms and intensive care units every day for the last five months, all at great risk to themselves and their loved ones. They are not unlike soldiers mobilizing for a battle from which they might never return; and indeed, some of them have paid the ultimate price.
Mixed martial arts, like every other spectator sport known to man, was forced into hiding when the COVID-19 wave crashed down upon the shores of humanity. March Madness and Wimbledon were canceled, while The Masters and the 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed—developments that were unthinkable when the ball dropped in Times Square on Dec. 31. If we knew then what we know now, no one would have uttered the words “Happy New Year.” The Ultimate Fighting Championship staged UFC Fight Night on March 14 and did not return to the stage for nearly two months. Bellator MMA has not promoted an event since Feb. 22, while the Professional Fighters League pulled the plug on its season on April 20 before organizing a single show in 2020.
While the NBA and MLB seasons remain in limbo, the UFC made the bold decision to resume its schedule in May despite widespread criticism from fans and media. Again, the idea of sacrifice rose to the forefront, this time in Jacksonville, Florida, where Ultimate Fighting Championship officials and members of the Florida State Boxing Commission linked arms and brought UFC 249 to life. Cageside physicians, local EMTs, judges, referees and various other personnel put their well-being on the back burner in an effort to provide a return to normalcy across three events: UFC 249 on May 9, UFC Fight Night 171 on May 13 and UFC on ESPN 8 on May 16.
No matter where one falls on the political spectrum or the lockdown-or-no-lockdown debate, the UFC spent seven days reminding the world that the current crisis remains a temporary blip on the radar. The fighters themselves should not be overlooked, nor should the voices who provided the soundtrack for the action that took place inside the Octagon. Without their willingness to venture into the unknown, we might still be stuck in what feels like a perpetual Twilight Zone with no end in sight. Their sacrifices provided hope for what tomorrow and the next day and the next day may bring. For that, we are eternally grateful.
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