UFC Brasilia: The Surreal Experience of the No Crowd Event and All the Controversy That Came With It

UFC Brasilia
BRASILIA, BRAZIL - MARCH 14: A general view of the Octagon prior to the UFC Fight Night event on March 14, 2020 in Brasilia, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)

The surreal experience of watching UFC Brasilia

After Renato Moicano’s (14-3-1) impressive submission victory against Damir Hadzovic (13-6), post-fight interviewer and UFC Hall of Famer, Michael Bisping amusingly called for the crowd to make some noise for their winner.  Except there was no crowd.

The Brazilian native roared in celebration as if to expect a resounding cheer back from the fans however it wasn’t to be.  Just an eerie silence as Moicano’s lone celebration echoed in the empty arena.  Even after a dominant victory, the victor expressed his frustration for having to perform in an empty arena of his hometown.    

“I’m sorry, I’m very frustrated because today I fought in my hometown and I don’t see nobody!  I didn’t see familiar faces!  I didn’t see my family over here,” said Moicano. 

The governing body in Brasilia banned public gatherings as the virus continuously spread around the world putting the UFC Brasilia event in doubt of it happening.  Nevertheless, the UFC simply abided by the restrictions by simply excluding the fans from the arena.  

With no roar of the crowd, no chants of thousands of passionate Brazilian fans screaming the famous chant ‘Uh vai morrer’ (you’re gonna die), the event certainly lacked the usual electrifying atmosphere that we have come to expect from Brazil.  Instead sports fans from around the world watched their beloved athletes from the comfort of their living room through a very different experience.  

“I loved it, I actually like it better without the crowd,” said South China Morning Post sports reporter John Hyon Ko.  “As a person who really watches this sport closely, you love to hear the corners and hear what they’re saying and analyse what’s going on.  It’s like the Ultimate Fighter, you could hear the coaches screaming and you get to see how the fighter reacts to the instructions from the corner. 

“I think it becomes a little bit real for the fans when you’re watching on TV.  When you get to hear the strikes land, you get to hear that slap, get to hear the pound of the fists hitting the head, or the kick hitting the leg and its just magnified because there’s no crowd.”  

Viewers could hear everything that was happening in and around the octagon.  Every blow landing on the opponent, the heavy breathing from the fighters, the cornermen shouting instructions to their fighter for a takedown or a quick one-two, even the heartfelt conversations of respect between the fighters after sharing the octagon in a dogfight.  

“I kind of enjoyed it in a very sick way,” said BT Sport UFC reporter Adam Catterall.  “When you’re caught up in the emotion of an event of having the fans there and the adrenaline there, you miss the small intricacies and the nuances of mixed martial arts.  When you’re allowed to strip all that back and just watch the art for what it is, you then start to take on a new appreciation for it.  

“You’re hearing fighters breathe, you’re hearing the corner teams talking and giving real live play by play instructions which you don’t necessarily get to hear because of the noise of the crowd.”

Catterall also talked of the new found appreciation he has for mixed martial arts and commented that his enjoyment has not dipped in the slightest with no crowd being there.

“My appreciation for mixed martial arts in a weird way, even though I love fans being in the auditoriums, I’ve actually found a new appreciation for MMA and probably I’ve learnt more because I’m listening more.  I’m sat on my sofa at home and I’m still entertained as ever.”

It was odd to say the least but a more intimate viewing which in turn enhanced the experience for people watching.  Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it just like many others watching from around the world.  Few fights into the card, I had fully adjusted to the surrealness of the event to the point where it seemed normal and I had forgotten there was no crowd.    

Was it right to hold UFC Brasilia during the pandemic?

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic devastating the sports world, the UFC stood alone as one of the only few sport leagues operating.  The promotion held on to their survival instincts to deliver UFC Fight Night: Lee vs. Oliveira (UFC Brasilia) at the Ginasio Nilson Nelson in Brasilia, done behind closed doors – the first time in the company’s history.  

Controversy stemmed from whether the UFC should have held UFC Brasilia at all during a major pandemic and considering all major sports leagues had suspended their operations.  The UFC was criticised for their disregard with putting on fights and posing health risks to fighters and anyone present at the event.  

“I had mixed emotions for that because of course there was a pandemic that was starting off,” said Ko.  “I was thinking this pandemic could be serious, maybe they should not have this show but at the same time, everyone is already there in this bubble already.” 

Ko mentioned that he was all for the events taking place because of the financial wage these fighters receive for competing.

“So, I guess you should just let them compete and it’s about allowing these fighters to get paid, said Ko.  “These guys don’t get paid that much for what they do so every opportunity for them to step into a cage, compete and get a paycheque, I’m all for that.”

“At that moment I was thinking it’s a risk but they’re already there so you might as well take that risk and let these fighters do their job and get paid.  At the end of the day I look at it as money and survival and these fighters need to survive.  Give them this opportunity and let them fight.”

Ko explained the controversy actually came from a fellow MMA promotion Bellator cancelling their show due to the pandemic, the same weekend UFC Brasilia took place.

“That same weekend Bellator were supposed to have a show in Connecticut but they cancelled their show,” said Ko.  “That’s why all the controversy was going on because Bellator were having a show that weekend.  They cancelled the whole show even though all the fighters were there already at the event, the arena, the hotel.  Then the UFC said ‘hey we don’t care we’re going to have a show’ and that’s where all the controversy came in.”  

“I think that’s what got the ball rolling and got into the ego of the UFC and Dana White, saying like ‘forget everybody we’re going to have fights and everyone’s going to cancel their shows?  I don’t care.  We’re going to find a way to do this.’  And they did.  They found a way and then they continued it.”

Catterall had no problems with the event taking place believing someone had to be first to get the ball rolling which in turn made for ‘incredible results’.

“I had no qualms or any overriding thoughts thinking this is outrageous or this really shouldn’t be happening,” said Catterall.  “There’s obviously got to be someone who goes first in trying to get things going again.  Nine times out of ten by pushing the envelope, by being prepared to go first, by not taking no for an answer, by wanting to push those boundaries, you then start to see incredible results for the UFC.”

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