The UFC’s decision to continue its schedule will give the organization the sports calendar all to itself on Saturday.
That’s just fine with Las Vegan Kevin Lee, who will fight Charles Oliveira in the main event of UFC Fight Night 170 in Brasilia, Brazil.
“I think the fight should go on,” he said. “It’s important that we show we’re not gonna stop living. If it’s in front of empty seats that’s cool with me, it honestly makes the fight bigger. Especially with the NBA shutdown, this is gonna be one of the most watched fights ever. It’s gonna be like old-school martial arts days, (you’re) just going to hear the punches and kicks, and when I hit Oliveira the whole world (is going to) feel it.”
The event will be held in essentially an empty arena with no fans. Only UFC staff and essential personnel will be in the building under a degree by the Brazilian government limiting gatherings to 100 people.
Media will cover the card from the host hotel, where athletes will be transported for post-fight interviews.
The 3 p.m. fight card has been moved to ESPN with the network looking to fill its schedule with few live sporting events.The main card, which also features a welterweight bout between Demian Maia and Gilbert Burns, will air at 3 p.m. Preliminary card action begins at noon.
UFC president Dana White announced late Thursday the organization will continue its schedule with several alterations at a time where nearly every major sports organization has postponed competition.
“We’ve been closely monitoring the situation with the coronavirus and its potential impact on the health and safety of UFC athletes, staff and fans around the world. We’re moving forward with all our UFC live events, but we’re going to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances,” said White, who consulted with U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence before making that decision. “Everybody is panicking and instead of panicking we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how we can keep the sport safe and how we can continue to put on events.”
Next week’s event in London is scheduled to go on with an audience, but the UFC’s two ensuing events will be moved to the organization’s production facility in Las Vegas.
Lee is excited to still be in action, but will be out 20 percent of his purse after missing weight on Friday. It’s the second time in his last four fights at lightweight that he has missed the mark.
He made a stellar return to 155 pounds in his last fight and knocked out Gregor Gillespie with a head kick. Lee, a perennial lightweight contender, made a brief move up to welterweight last May only to lose to Rafael dos Anjos.
He has long advocated for the formation of a 165-pound division to no avail.
Oliveira, who has put his past weight-cutting issues behind him, has won six consecutive fights. He expected to have a significant home-crowd advantage before spectators were banned from the venue.