When DeSantis Restored MMA

My favorite passage in Ron DeSantis’s memoir Courage to be Free is his account of hosting UFC 249 during Covid. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a sport my wife and I have come to enjoy since we were engaged back in 2014. She wanted to buy a wedding gown that was slightly too small as an incentive to work out and fit into the snuggly cut dress. Yet she still struggled to find the motivation to run on a treadmill at the 24 Hour Fitness gym where we had a membership. She was bored and was looking for some kind of group fitness class. One night we were watching a movie on Netflix called Kiss the Girls, a serial killer movie about a guy that abducts the wrong girl, a lady kickboxer. 

After watching that movie, my then fiancée said: “That’s it. I want to join a fighting gym.” We were living in Portland then, and she joined the UFC gym in Beaverton. We made a lot of fighter friends along the way and regularly watched UFC fights at Buffalo Wild Wings or Big Al’s.

I know my wife and I are not alone in enjoying this sport, so in 2020, under lockdown, many must have appreciated the effort DeSantis made to host a fight in Florida. Here is his account:

In April 2020, Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White proposed holding UFC fights on a private island to be free from COVID-19 lockdowns. I appreciated what Dana was trying to do because virtually no other sporting league would have had the fortitude to do it. I saw this as an opportunity to bring UFC to Florida and to facilitate the return to normalcy. I called Dana and offered him a venue in Florida.

“Come here and do the fights,” I told him. “We are happy to accommodate, and I think people in our country need to see live competition again.”

“What cities would be good?” he asked me.

“Honestly, we can do it anywhere you want,” I told him.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to deal with some jackass mayor,” he told me.

“Oh no, don’t worry about that,” I replied. “I will overrule any mayor that gives you guys a hard time.”

“I appreciate that, but I want to be someplace where they want us,” he said.

So we proceeded to go over the mayors in some of Florida’s biggest cities. Dana liked Jacksonville because it had a Republican mayor who would work together with the state rather than play politics, and he would be eager to put on a successful event. This meant, among other things, allowing UFC to adopt its own COVID-19 protocols rather than force them to follow arbitrary or unreasonable guidance. On May 9, 2020, UFC 249 took place in Jacksonville for what was the first professional sporting event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

That was, of course, unthinkable in Oregon at the time. There wasn’t much to do in the Beaver State, until, a couple of weeks later, Oregonians were allowed to freely riot in the streets.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.