Combat sports fans were treated to a semblance of normalcy in the form of live Ultimate Fighting Championship events, broadcast out of the empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, between May 9 and May 16.
There was UFC 249, featuring one of the best main cards in recent memory—headlined by Justin Gaethje’s mesmerizing victory over Tony Ferguson to lift the interim 155-pound strap. Then there was the midweek UFC Fight Night 171, pitting former light heavyweight title contenders Glover Teixeira and Anthony Smith against one another to see who could take one step closer to a second opportunity at Jon Jones’ throne. Finally, heavyweight contenders Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris—the latter barely six months removed from the tragic death of his stepdaughter—went to war in the UFC on ESPN 8 main event, with Harris coming heart-wrenchingly close to an early stoppage before capitulating to punches in the second stanza.
Like many people in the MMA ecosystem, I initially approached the Jacksonville Three with a mix of cautious skepticism and unbridled excitement.
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