It was no fluke that MMA was the first sport back after the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt. MMA is uniquely suited for our “new normal” since it is a 1v1 sport and fighters are able to train with a small number of people. MMA quickly adopted the ideas of operating in a bubble and frequent COVID-19 testing. Bellator has strong ties to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. So, it was not all that surprising when Bellator chose Mohegan Sun for its return.
I was able to cover their most recent event, Bellator 249, in person. I arrived at the Mohegan Sun on Tuesday morning. I took a COVID-19 test and then went to my hotel room to quarantine for 24 hours. Through Zoom, I was able to interview the fighters, who had been at the hotel since the weekend. The next morning, my test results came back as negative, which allowed me to make trips back and forth to the cafeteria. After being mostly locked up in my room for two days, the anticipation was building as Thursday night’s event crept closer. I dressed up in my suit and donned my press pass. When I arrived at the arena, the Bellator public relations team that I had dealt with all week showed me to my seat, which was socially distanced from the other media members in attendance.
Before the pandemic, I was a regular attendee of Bellator’s events at Mohegan Sun, but my experience at this event was entirely different. For starters, there were no fans in attendance, and there were numerous moments during fights that the arena was engulfed by an eerie silence. The major sources of sound were the fighters’ coaches shouting instruction, the klaxon to alert the referee and fighters that there is 10 seconds left in a round and the strikes of the fighters. The fighters’ punches definitely echoed a bit more than I was expecting, and you knew when a hard blow landed based on sound. Oddly enough, the loudest of the sounds was the klaxon, and it made me jump in my seat several times. This is a sound that would be hardly noticed in a filled arena, but boomed through the relative silence.
After each fight, I got to interview the winning fighter backstage. This was not something I was used to and I found that I had to make small changes to the way I watched fights. You had to have questions ready for shortly after the conclusion of a fight, but since you couldn’t be sure of the outcome, you had to be making these questions for if either fighter was the winner.
Overall, the atmosphere was much more relaxed than I expected. The Bellator PR team was extremely nice, and it was really awesome to see Scott Coker have the same authentic personality as he does on television. When there was a bit of a break between the end of the prelims and beginning of the main card, a few of us watched baseball with Coker on his laptop. Throughout the night, I got to talk to the other two media members in attendance, Keith Shillan of Sherdog and Nolan King of MMA Junkie, about the fights and their experiences covering events. They were very supportive of me during my first event, and were happy to give me some tips. During the break before the main card, the three of us went to get snacks. When a cashier made the incredulous comment that I looked too young to be with the media, Shillan immediately stood up for me and said that it was my first event and I was doing great. I look forward to covering more Bellator events in the future.