A sold-out crowd of just over 15,000 fans attended UFC 261 on Saturday, the first such indoor event to be held in over a year as the country continues its reopening of live events. VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida played host to the Pay-Per-View event, which closed with Kamaru Usman knocking out Jorge Masvidal in the main event.
“It’s time to get back to normal,” UFC President Dana White told reporters at a post-event press conference. “I know a lot of you guys in the media don’t feel exactly the way i do about a lot of things, but you can’t deny it felt pretty [expletive] good to be in Florida this week and be normal.”
Florida and its governor Ron DeSantis have been at the forefront in the push to get live events back up and running at full capacity as the COVID pandemic has begun to taper off due to vaccination efforts. The Republican pushed hard for the Super Bowl to be at full capacity in Tampa earlier this year, before organizers opted to allow a limited capacity event. State officials have removed any restrictions on crowd sizes for event operators, and also removed any mandate that mask-wearing or social-distancing be put in place, leaving such decisions up to those hosting the events instead.
“Welcome to Florida: You guys aren’t the only ones looking to come to this oasis of freedom,” DeSantis told reporters before the event. “This is going to be the first full throttle sporting event since COVID hit, indoor, anywhere in the United States. I think it’s fitting. We wanted to be safe, but there’s a lot of stuff that comes at you from media, from social media, all this stuff. Some people don’t like to handle that. Dana White goes right into the teeth of that.”
In total, the crowd for UFC 261 was tallied at 15,259 fans. Every attendee was required to answer questions through an identity app created by CLEAR regarding any potential COVID symptoms prior to their being allowd in, as well as sign a liability waiver that indicated that their attendance at the event was exclusively their choice and at their own risk given the potential harm should they be exposed to COVID while at the arena.
Despite those warnings, the crowd came in droves, with one estimate pegging the venue at 50% out of state residents. The event was the third-highest selling event on resale marketplaces last week, according to data from Ticket Club.
“Everybody is doing their thing down here and living their life, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” White says. “So it felt good to be here, it felt good to have the mayor, the governor, and all these people working with us to put on a safe event and for people to come out here and have fun. It was awesome. It literally couldn’t have been any better. We couldn’t have done this any better or planned this any better than we did.”