The coronavirus pandemic has added a new, unknown layer to MMA, even for some of the most experienced minds in the game.
Mike Brown, retired fighter, former WEC champion and current coach at American Top Team, thinks the changes and measures COVID-19 has forced on society could very well alter professional fighting as we know it.
Like all sports, all major MMA events came to a halt when coronavirus was declared a pandemic.
The only major MMA event held during this climate was UFC Brasilia in Brazil on March 14. But even then, the event was in the very beginning of the crisis and fighters were able to get in normal training camps in the lead-up to the card. The only thing COVID-19 altered for the event was the actual fight week. UFC Brasilia was closed to fans and included other preventive, social-distancing measures.
UFC 249 on May 9 will be the first major event held during the pandemic. Several precautions will be taken including alleged testing for everyone involved in the event, no crowd, and other measures. Four fighters from American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., will be competing on the card, which takes place just a few hours north in Jacksonville.
“It’s definitely going to be a different vibe without the crowd – it’s much different,” Brown told MMA Junkie. “I think some people will maybe fight differently – to some it will be good, to some maybe it won’t be. There’s people that feed off the crowd. Some people compete better with the audience, (and) maybe the audience bothers some people.
“We might see some slightly different fights out of this. Maybe there’s an advantage to the guys that may have fought on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ or maybe on (Dana White’s) Contender Series, places with no crowds. People that have that experience might give them a slight advantage to them. These are all factors that all weigh in.”
Brown thinks the lack of crowd could be good or bad depending on the fighter. He certainly thinks it’s a factor, not only for the fighters, but also for the their coaches.
“It can be good or bad, the adrenaline. Also, being able to hear your coaches clearly is different,” Brown said. “Who knows if this is good or bad for the fighter – but definitely a different experience.
“(It may be) similar to fighting in Japan. Small shows in Japan are very quiet and you can hear all the instructions – every punch, every grunt and every groan. It’s definitely a different experience, and we’ll see. I think some people it’s good for.”
The actual event will not be the only thing altered for the fighters. All the work leading up to the card has also changed. American Top Team has closed almost all operations. The only people allowed to use the factuality are athletes with booked fights, and even they’ve had certain limitations. They’re only allowed to train at certain times and only with a certain amount of partners and coaches.
“It’s tough – obviously, it’s not ideal,” Brown said. “There’s a lot less training partners, but we have so many athletes down here that make do. Scheduling is tougher. You can’t have everybody meet at one time. So now we have to come in a lot more often and take the people out so there’s only couple of fighters at the gym at a time
“We’re still getting solid training in. They’re in shape. They’re prepared. It’s not ideal. They’re not getting what they usually get in. The biggest thing is getting the variety. Usually, you get a good variety of partners, which is important. But now we’re sticking to one training partner, two training partners, maximum. You can still get to where you need to go, but it’s not ideal, not perfect. But they’re all in shape and ready to go.”
Brown will be coaching Charles Rosa for UFC 249. Rosa takes on undefeated Bryce Mitchell on the preliminary portion of the card.