UFC 249 was the second time the UFC held a fight card in an empty arena amid the global pandemic brought on by the coronavirus. Along with the obvious odd circumstances surrounding the event, fighters began to point out something wholly unique as the event played out in Jacksonville, Florida's VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. They could hear the ringside commentary and it was helping them adjust their strategies. And even helping them win.
Carla Esparza battled Michelle Waterson in a women's strawweight fight on the prelims. With a potential title shot on the line, Esparza said she could hear former light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier on commentary.
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"It's crazy because he was kind of criticizing me and part of me was like, 'Hey, like, that's messed up. Why are you saying that?'" Esparza said after the fight. "But I was like, 'That's actually a good idea.' He was like, 'She's just striking and just going for takedowns.' I kind of made some adjustments in there. It's crazy, we were definitely able to hear them in there."
When former NFL star Greg Hardy opened up the pay-per-view portion of the card, he was getting his leg picked apart by the kicks of Yorgan de Castro. Then, he said, he heard Cormier and began making the necessary adjustments. Hardy would win the fight by unanimous decision after neutralizing de Castro's most effective strike.
"Thank god for not having the crowd," Hardy said. "Shout out to DC, I heard him tell me to go out and check it and I need to figure out how to check it. So I started trying to check him and ... game changer."
While affecting the in-ring action is one thing, it's a wonder if the commentary team has had any effect on the judges at ringside while they score the bouts. Typically, they aren't able to hear anything when the arena is at capacity, but given the circumstances, it's an interesting topic of conversation.