UFC marks sports’ return after message from Trump

Global soccer leagues have all ceased due to the virus — though Germany’s Bundesliga is set to return next weekend — along with MLB, the NBA and NHL, but Jacksonville, Florida, hosted the MMA spectacle with no fans.

“I want to congratulate Dana White and the UFC,” Trump said in a taped message aired by sports broadcaster ESPN, referring to the UFC president who is also one of his economic advisers.

“They’re going to have a big match. We love it. We think it’s important. Get the sports leagues back. Let’s play. Do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do. We need sports. We want our sports back. Congratulations to Dana White and UFC.”

According to one report, the cage floor and padding of the octagon where fights take place were regularly cleaned during Saturday night’s proceedings. Many of those inside the stadium wore masks and gloves.

That didn’t, though, include the referees, announcer and some other officials, the same report stated. Everyone had to be tested prior to entering the arena.

One middleweight, Jacare Souza, had his fight against Uriah Hall canceled Friday after testing positive for the virus.

White defended his decision to stage the event — which was originally scheduled for New York in the middle of April — telling CNN last week it wasn’t a “crazy” idea.

“Listen, we have families, too,” he said. “I have a family. I don’t want to hurt my family. I don’t want to die.

“This isn’t just some crazy…this is a well-thought-out plan. We’ve had very, very smart people, doctors and people that have been involved with the UFC for a very long time working on this thing nonstop since it started.

“We believe that we have this thing in a place where it can be as safe as it can possibly be.”

More fights this week

Two more fight nights are on the cards for Jacksonville on Wednesday and Saturday, but White didn’t discount holding bouts on an island in the future.

As for the action Saturday, Justin Gaethje stopped favorite Tony Ferguson in the fifth and final round to land the interim lightweight title, and Henry Cejudo successfully defended his bantamweight crown by knocking out Dominick Cruz in the second round — before announcing his retirement.

“I’m happy with my career,” said Cejudo, a wrestling gold medalist at the 2008 Olympics. “I’ve done enough in the sport. I want to walk away and enjoy myself. I’m 33 years old.”

A bloodied Tony Ferguson (left) was upset by Justin Gaethje at UFC 249.

Ferguson was scheduled to meet the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia, but that was canceled for a fifth time. On this occasion, it was due to travel restrictions placed on Nurmagomedov because of the pandemic.

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In stepped Gaethje, and Ferguson said he didn’t adjust to the different style.

“I had spent a lot of time preparing for Khabib who is not as much of a striker,” he said.