UFC 249 color commentator Joe Rogan interviewed fighters postfight in the Octagon on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida, a departure from UFC’s previously stated protocol in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The card, which took place in front of no fans at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, kicked off with a preliminary bout between light heavyweights Sam Alvey and Ryan Spann. After Spann’s split decision win, he was interviewed in the Octagon by Rogan.
Rogan conducted Octagon interviews in the same style immediately after the second and third fights as well.
Earlier in the week, Craig Borsari, UFC’s executive vice president of operations and production, told ESPN that no postfight Octagon interviews would take place at UFC 249. The plan as of Tuesday was the winning fighter would be escorted from the cage after the bout to an isolated area where he or she would be given a sanitized headset for a remote interview with Rogan.
On Saturday, Rogan conducted the interview next to Spann inside the cage and a gloveless Rogan shook Spann’s hand. Outside the Octagon, many but not all personnel were wearing protective masks. Octagon announcer Bruce Buffer was wearing a mask cageside and removing it to read introductions and results while inside the Octagon.
“It’s not weird at all,” Spann said when asked by Rogan about fighting with no audience. “I’ve been on ‘The Contender [Series]’ twice, so I’m good. I don’t like people — I do like people. I don’t like ’em a little bit. But it’s fine. It was nothing. Like I said, I’ve been on ‘The Contender’ twice, so I’m ready for this.”
A request for comment from the UFC was not immediately returned Saturday night.
Rogan had voiced his displeasure with some of the UFC’s safety guidelines in his podcast Friday.
“We’re gonna be in an empty arena, no one’s gonna be even near me,” Rogan said. “Everybody has to be really far away from each other. We’re gonna be in separate corners of the Octagon, which f—ing sucks.
“We’re all tested. That’s what doesn’t make any sense. Not only are we all healthy and fine, we’re tested. We’re clean. We don’t have it. We don’t have to be far apart from each other. I got tested [Thursday]. I got the results back from my nose swab, that’s negative. And then two days before that I took an antibody test, and that’s negative, too. I’m 100 percent negative.”
Rogan and the two other members of the UFC broadcast team, Jon Anik and Daniel Cormier, were each seated at separate tables away from one another Saturday night.
Borsari said Tuesday that everyone involved in the event would be tested for COVID-19. On Friday, the UFC announced that Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza was pulled from his scheduled fight against Uriah Hall at UFC 249 after he tested positive for the coronavirus. Two of Souza’s corner people also tested positive for COVID-19. The three were removed from the hotel and would be “self-isolating off premises,” per a UFC statement.