Florida Governor Ron DeSantis received a very warm reception at UFC 273. DeSantis, who was sitting cage-side, received the loudest cheers of the night on the crowd cam. On the broadcast, DeSantis was enthusiastically introduced as “my governor” by UFC play-by-play announcer Jon Anik.
WATCH: DeSantis given a champion prize fighter’s welcome at UFC last night.
— Election Wizard (@ElectionWiz) April 10, 2022
Governor DeSantis and the UFC have been forming a strong partnership since the COVID-19 pandemic began. After all major North American sports were cancelled in March 2020, Dana White immediately tried to find a workaround. After Disney-owned ESPN axed a plan to have fights on a Native American reservation just two weeks into the lockdowns, White turned to DeSantis.
The two sides ultimately worked out a deal and the UFC managed to return in early May of that year. DeSantis and the UFC ultimately worked out at arraignment to host UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, which was held without fans. MMA media, which is largely left-leaning, was highly critical of the event, as was the mainstream press. Critics labeled UFC 249 a “super spreader event” and accused White of endangering his employees for profit.
“Get the sports leagues back…let’s play. You do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do. We need sports. We want our sports back.”
President Trump on ESPN’s broadcast of UFC 249. pic.twitter.com/Wxn0iHfESw
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) May 10, 2020
UFC 249 was a massive success, however, and the promotion ended up hosting four cards in Jacksonville early in the pandemic. Fights later moved to the UFC headquarters in Las Vegas, but White told DeSantis that the UFC would return to the sunshine state as soon as fans could be allowed in.
The promotion ultimately did just that when UFC 261 was held in Jacksonville last May. That evening’s fight card was the first major North American sporting event to allow live crowds for over a year, making it a historical event.
Prior to the event, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and DeSantis delivered remarks at the official UFC 261 press conference.
“UFC was the first sport back with live competition anywhere in the country. But we didn’t have the big fans for it yet. I told Dana, ‘listen when you guys are ready to come, Florida needs to be the first place for a UFC (event) with all the fans,’” DeSantis explained at the presser. He then praised White for his courage, saying “Dana White goes right into the teeth of (criticism). He stands up for what’s right, he doesn’t back down, he holds the line.”
FL Gov. Ron DeSantis at UFC press conference giving remarks on opening up the first major sporting arena after Covid restrictions were imposed last year. pic.twitter.com/9RrDoMZY2c
— Cardinal Conservative (@CardinalConserv) April 22, 2021
The UFC has long enjoyed a special relationship with former President Trump, who helped keep the promotion afloat in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Trump’s properties hosted numerous crucial UFC events in that time period, during which politicians from both parties were trying to ban MMA, including Senator John McCain.
In 2019, Trump became the first sitting president to attend a UFC event when he sat cage-side at UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden in New York.