Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will be featured at the UFC 261 press conference this afternoon at 4 ET. DeSantis will be joined by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, as well as Dana White and the six fighters who will be competing in championship fights. This includes Florida’s Jorge Masvidal, who is an outspoken Trump supporter and son of a Cuban refugee who came to America on a raft.
The move comes as Vystar Veterans arena in Jacksonville is set to host the UFC’s first packed house event since the pandemic began. The UFC will become the first major North American sports organization to host a capacity crowd event. The big four sports leagues have of course had limited fans in attendance since the start of their current seasons. As for the UFC, they have mostly hosted events at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, where the only fans in attendance were celebrities.
The big splash is nothing new for the UFC, who have been much more active than other sports leagues over the course of the pandemic. The UFC first returned to action on May 9, 2020, in Jacksonville.
On May 18, 2020, DeSantis thanked Dana White and the promotion. “Thanks for @danawhite and @UFC for being the first sport back,” DeSantis said in a tweet. You are always welcome in Florida – let’s have fans next time!”
After three events in Jacksonville last May, including a pay-per-view, the promotion has held events just about every week. They have mostly taken place at the UFC Apex, while the promotion also hosted over 10 events on Yas Island, or “Fight Island”, in Abu Dhabi.
As for DeSantis, he has garnered national praise and positioned himself as a GOP favorite in 2024 following his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida has taken a far more nuanced approach to lockdowns than most other states, particularly New York, California and Michigan. Despite having harsh lockdown policies, these states have had higher case rates than Florida, where many municipalities have no mask mandates.
DeSantis actually removed the ability of municipalities to collect fines for mask violations in September. Some municipalities have mask mandates, but their ability to enforce them is limited. As a result, businesses have allowed to been operate much more freely in Florida than many other states.
Florida has also had a much lower death rate among senior populations, thanks in part to the state government’s efforts towards protecting those communities first and foremost. The state has fared much better in this regards compared to New York, where death tolls among seniors are much higher.
The move to have DeSantis speak perhaps signals the UFC’s desire to market to conservatives. While all of the major pro sports league are left leaning — far left in the case of the NBA — the UFC has made gestures to the other side. Many (not all) fighters are openly conservative, while President Trump attended UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden.
Dana White has also long been an active supporter of Donald Trump, as the two have had a critical business relationship since the UFC’s early days. White spoke at the Republican convention in 2020, while Jorge Masvidal, one of the headliners of this weekend’s card, spoke at Trump rallies.