The UFC is in Arizona for the first time February 2019 for Saturday’s UFC 263 ESPN+ streaming pay-per-view card. The Arizona Boxing and MMA Commission oversees the event which is headlined by a middleweight title fight between Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori. In the co-main event, flyweight kingpin Deiveson Figueiredo faces Brandon Moreno. Both contests are rematches. A review of the Arizona Boxing and MMA Commission MMA rules brings up several concerns with pre-fight medical requirements for the competitors.
Arizona compares favorably with the California Athletic Commission (CSAC), which is one of the better athletic commissions in the world regarding athlete requirements, for blood work (HIV, Hepatitis B Surface Antigen, and Hepatitis C Antibody. Negative and non-reactive results are acceptable), physical and eye exam requirements. California requires blood work be performed no more than one month from date of application, Arizona does not make this demand. Arizona medical tests expire on December 31 of the year they are performed while California’s are good for one year.
California requires an EKG test for all fighters. Arizona only requires an EKG for fighters over 36. The California EKG is valid indefinitely, unless the commission requires a new one on a case-by-case basis.
Arizona does not require radiological exams for fighters under 40. California requires an MRI of the brain without contrast and the GRE Technique must also be included. The MRI is valid for five years.
Like the EKG and MRI, California requires fighters to present a neurological exam, which is valid for 15 months. Arizona does not require a neurological exam for any fighters.
Arizona requires any fighter over age 36 years old to appear before the Commission, who will then make a licensing determination.
Arizona issued an “Unarmed Combat Sports COVID-19 Protocol” that went into effect on May 12, 2021. It is a three-page document.
The state requires the UFC to present an operational plan for the following:
1) recommended physical distancing guidelines
2) protective/prevention measures and equipment
3) testing and daily screening procedures
4) isolation guidelines
5) positive test procedures
6) cleaning procedures
7) staffing requirements
8) weigh-in and event walkout procedures
9) locker-room assignment and cleaning procedures
10) post-event follow-up procedures.
The commission requires a negative COVID-19 test for entry into any areas the commission identifies as restricted. It does not list these areas in the document.
The commission will check temperatures on all event-related personnel, “starting 72 hours in advance of arrival to the event venue, or upon arrival to the host hotel, whichever comes first.”
Those who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or test positive “shall be disqualified and/or removed from the area for quarantine or directed to a physician for immediate medical care. The Commission shall notify the Arizona Department of Health Services (“AZDHS”) of any person testing positive, including positive serology results.”
As for fighters who test positive for COVID-19. The commission will medically suspend them until cleared by a physician.
The UFC is on the hook for expenses related to testing, PPE equipment and cleaning supplies for the event. The commission also requires the UFC to ensure sterilization of the venue, fighter hotel, transportation and any shared areas.
Besides the commission requirements, there is a list of recommendations that include an isolation plan for non-local personnel testing positive for COVID-19 and a 14-day post-event follow up with athletes, cornermen, and staff, to ensure no new symptoms have developed. The commission also recommends athletes self-isolate for (14) days post-event, even if test results are negative, to ensure no new symptoms develop.
While there are some gaps in the state’s licensing program, the COVID-19 protocol seems robust and detailed.
UFC 263 takes place on June 12 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+ and early prelims on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass.