“I’m good with fighting in an empty arena,” Kevin Lee tweeted yesterday. “Let’s not panic too crazy, let us fight, entertain the people stuck at home.”
The prospect of watching top-shelf mixed martial artists fight in front of empty bleachers is indeed an unusual prospect, but it’s been an unusual week, and Lee’s sentiment matched myriad others who just want to see the show go on.
For his part, UFC President Dana White agreed. With the Brazilian government nixing events of more than 100 people due to the escalating coronavirus situation, the company found a way to at least get the fights on television.
“We are going to do the event live on ESPN and ESPN+ from Brasilia,” White told SportsCenter. “We will just have the staff running the event inside the arena that night.”
This was welcome news for fight fans following a week of watching so many other cultural events get canceled. And while ticketholders in Brazil’s capital are undoubtedly disappointed, the televised contest should offer plenty of consolation.
There are numerous reasons to watch UFC Brasilia. Here are just a few
You can be forgiven if Charles Oliveira’s 7-5 run at featherweight caused him to drop off your radar, but the time to put him back on it is past due.
“Do Bronx” is undefeated in his last six fights at lightweight, and all six have been first or second round finishes. Most of those finishes have been his dangerous, trademark submissions, the most recent helping him advance his record for the most subs in the history of the promotion (13). Should he leave Ginasio Nilson Nelson with another on Saturday against Kevin Lee, he’ll tie Cowboy Cerrone for the most UFC finishes in history.
Oh, and the guy is only 30 years old.
When we last saw Kevin Lee, he was sending the previously undefeated Gregor Gillespie into orbit at UFC 244. It was a thrilling return to the lightweight division, and it was a testament to his rebirth under Firas Zahabi at Montreal’s renowned Tristar Gym.
If there’s one thing “The Motown Phenom” can’t be accused of, it’s taking easy fights. To glance at his fight history the last several years is to glance at a Murderers Row, and that won’t change this Saturday when he runs into the best Charles Oliveira the world has ever seen.
“I pride myself on being the most well-rounded fighter,” says Lee. “I’ve beaten BJJ blackbelts, I’ve beaten world champion kickboxers, I’ve beaten world class wrestlers. [Oliviera] is the mix of all of them, and once I beat him, I’ll show I’m the most well-rounded.”
On the same night Kevin Lee restarted his hype train at UFC 244, Johnny Walker found his getting derailed by Corey Anderson, who delivered the Brazilian a rare TKO defeat.
It was a great performance from Anderson, but it shouldn’t erase Walker’s resumé as one of the wildest, most entertaining talents the light heavyweight division has witnessed in ages. In his three previous UFC victories, none of them made it to the two-minute mark, and the fight-ending KOs were savage, unorthodox works of art.
Like card-mate Lee, Walker is feeling renewed after relocating his camp to Canada’s Tristar Gym. Returning home to the friendly confines of Brazil to show off his new tools just feels like the perfect recipe for the return of the giant-slaying promise he’s shown (not to mention the worm dance).
You’d really be going out a limb to argue that any country has deeper MMA talent than Brazil, and a quick peek at UFC Brasilia’s fight card would provide a lot of counterpoints to your already-shaky contention.
In addition to the aforementioned Oliveira and Walker, the co-main event could easily be the featured bout on nearly any other fight night. Demian Maia will look to continue his legacy as perhaps the greatest grappler ever against prolific Gilbert Burns, who has gone 6-1 in his last seven. Tasty.
Rounding out the posse of combatants looking to make their homeland proud: Renato Moicano, Francisco Trinaldo, Jussier Formiga, Amanda Ribas, Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, Rani Yahya, Mayra Bueno Silva, and Bruno Silva.
From top to bottom, Brazil is bringing the fireworks, and this isn’t even a pay-per-view.
Let’s face it, its been a crazy, hectic week unlike any in recent memory.
Regardless of where you reside, your life has probably been impacted by the precautions and preparations undertaken to slow the spread of COVID-19. Long lines at the stores and an unending flurry of information can take its toll on the very strongest among us.
If Saturday finally affords you some time to relax and decompress, the familiarity of a top-notch mixed martial arts event might just offer the much-needed respite many of us are looking for.
Reminder: UFC Brasilia will be broadcast on both ESPN+ and ESPN. Prelims begin at 3pm/12pm ETPT and the main card begins at 6pm/3pm ETPT.