Fighting in an empty arena without any fans in attendance was a new experience for UFC on ESPN 8 main event winner Alistair Overeem, but ultimately he actually enjoyed it.
Because of coronavirus pandemic safety measures, all three UFC cards that took place in Jacksonville, Fla., this past week happened without an audience inside the VyStar Arena, which was unique for many of the fighters and off-putting to others.
With the sound of every punch and kick reverberating through the cavernous arena not to mention many athletes actually hearing the commentary team during the fights, there were a lot of unusual intricacies to these shows.
Through nearly 100 fights in his career between kickboxing and MMA, Overeem has “never” actually competed without any kind of audience in attendance but count him as one of the fighters who rather liked it.
“Strange, I was fired up about it,” Overeem told MMA Fighting at the evening’s post-fight press conference. “This was fight No. 92. It kind of reminded me of my earlier fights. I have to go all the way back to ‘97 when there were like 200 or fewer people in the audience. This was a little bit different though and I don’t know, it motivated me.
“During a pandemic, first time, so to me it was very interesting tonight. No audience. Still you got tensions, still you’ve got the nerves going through you fight day. I don’t know but it was different. It was cool. I liked it. I enjoyed it.”
Overeem had to endure a chaotic opening round in his fight with Walt Harris but instead of having to drown out the roar of a crowd following an early knockdown, he focused on recovering and working his way back to the feet.
In the second round, Overeem’s resiliency paid off when he cracked Harris with a devastating head kick followed by a punch that put the top=10 ranked heavyweight down on the canvas. The stoppage came just a few moments later.
Overeem liked the way everything played out — especially the result in his fight — and with no clear sign when audiences will be able to return to events, he might get a chance to go through this again with plans to return before 2020 is finished.