For better or worse UFC Brasilia was the start of a new era for the UFC

Taking a look back at UFC Brasilia for our new weekly column on Throwback Thursday.
UFC Brasilia fight poster
UFC Brasilia fight poster / UFC

This article is part of a new series by FanSided MMA honoring milestones and memories from the past. Watch for a new flashback feature every Thursday.

UFC Brasilia took place on March 14, 2020. Little did we know this event would be the start of a new era in the UFC.

Despite the amazing storylines that unfolded inside of the Octagon that night, from Brandon Moreno's continued redemption story after previously having been cut from the UFC, to Gilbert Burns breaking through to contender status, to Charles Oliveira continuing on his path to an eventual UFC championship, the real story was taking place outside of the cage. Remember, this was March 2020.

Two days prior to the event the UFC announced that for the first time in the promotion's history, there would be no crowd. A five-day suspension on large gatherings had been ordered by the governor of the Federal District, where Brasilia is located, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two days later, then President Trump issued guidance recommending the avoidance of gatherings with more than 10 individuals and the sports world came to a halt. The next five UFC productions would be cancelled, leading to the longest break between events for the promotion since late 2005.

As the old saying goes, the show must go on and the UFC worked tirelessly to resume operations. After three cards in an empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, the UFC APEX hosted its first event outside of Dana White's Contender Series.

The popularity of the UFC soared during a time when they were the only sport on TV. The conclusion of the trilogy between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier, the fight of the year contender that kicked off the Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo quadrilogy, and the end to Khabib Nurmagomedov's legendary career all took place in virtually empty buildings. The rise to superstar status of Kevin Holland and Khamzat Chimaev all took place in buildings without a single paying fan. This ability to stage exciting events and build stars with little to no crowd forever changed the way the UFC would conduct business.

Post-pandemic, the UFC had the blueprint for putting on relatively low-cost shows while still maintaining their world-class production. They began taking a three-tier approach to their shows: UFC APEX cards loaded with prospects from a growing roster fed by Dana White's Contender Series with one or two fights of major consequence, UFC Fight Nights on the road where they could highlight local fighters while giving their rising and established stars the opportunity to carry a card from a promotional standpoint, and the star-studded pay per views.

The UFC would never be the same after UFC Brasilia took place in an empty arena. There have been 115 non-pay-per-view UFC events since then and only 21 of those have been outside of the UFC APEX. Coinciding with increased production value and a rise in the next wave of UFC superstars, we don't know what the UFC would look like had they not been forced to adapt to the new world that COVID-19 gave us. What we do know is that the UFC has the uncanny ability to deliver a compelling experience regardless of whether that is in the UFC APEX with no crowd or in front of an arena filled to the rafters with screaming fans.


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