UFC and Bellator veteran-turned-top-media-personality Chael Sonnen’s Submission Underground (SUG) grappling promotion is still set to promote SUG 13 on UFC Fight Pass on April 26, a representative for the promotion confirmed to The Body Lock.
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The plan to go forward with the event comes after the cancelation of the controversial UFC 249 event, which was announced on Thursday. The news came following a decision from ESPN’s parent company, Disney, whose executives told UFC President Dana White to “stand down” after reported involvement from California Governor Gavin Newsom, Senator Diane Feinstein, and media pressure amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
SUG promoted its most recent event, SUG 12, on March 29 with stringent, heavily adapted restrictions in order to conform to Oregon’s – the state in which SUG promoted the event – COVID-19 standards. The event took place in a converted grain silo, featured no fans in attendance, and personnel were specially adjusted so as to not violate gathering rules.
There was a lone camera operator at the event, no cornermen were present, and Sonnen himself, the show’s lone commentator, was positioned far from the cage in which the matches took place.
“I’m in one room,” said Sonnen during the broadcast. “Each athlete is in a different room. One cameraman on the floor, everything else is being done remotely. Doctor, referee, and soon to be two athletes.”
Competitors were made to wear long-sleeved rashguards and spats, and sanitation of the cage took place between matches.
Ahead of SUG 12, two competitors – UFC fighters and title challengers Roxanne Modafferi and Carlos Condit – withdrew from the event citing travel and training concerns due to COVID-19.
There was no mention of testing for COVID-19 at the event. Since the event, no athletes or staff have publically reported either symptoms or positive diagnoses for coronavirus.
In a video uploaded to his YouTube channel Friday titled, “Do all sports have to be cancelled?“, Sonnen discussed the effect of COVID-19 on the sporting world.
“It would seem to me that there is a major opportunity right now, and I’m talking about the world of sports and entertainment through sport. There was a very broad stroke approach to just yank sport: the NCAA followed suit, basketball moved in quickly – they had reasons, though. They had some positive tests, they had some real concerns. They did things that were very responsible, that they should be proud of,” said Sonnen.
“Those dominoes began to fall; it just wiped sport… the NCAA wrestling championships, by example, was right around the corner and was two weeks away – but that is a little different in all fairness, if we’re observing this distancing, it’s a little hard to make the argument that these two guys are going to go out and close the distance in the name of contesting the sport. I understand some of these things,” Sonnen continued.
Sonnen went on to offer that sports that exhibit natural distancing – tennis, golf, baseball (“You could do away with the catcher”), ski jumping, and “every sport that X-Games puts on” – could be allowed to continue, with no mention of combat sports or his own grappling promotion as sports within that category. The former UFC title challenger did go on, however, to say that UFC 249 taking place could be the catalyst for other sports to re-emerge under these new conditions.
SUG 13, headlined by an incredible match between Ultimate Fighter finalist Vinny Magalhaes and ADCC star Craig Jones, will take place “from an undisclosed location,” according to a promo issued by Sonnen on his Twitter page.
However, should the show land in Oregon, the state’s governor’s continued steps to address the COVID-19 crisis may make that difficult.
On March 23 – a date prior to SUG 12, Governor Kate Brown issued Executive No. Order 20-12, “STAY HOME, SAVE LIVES.”
Order No. 20-12 states, “Non-essential social and recreational gatherings of individuals outside of a home or place of residence (e.g., parties, celebrations, or other similar gatherings and events) are prohibited immediately, regardless of size, if a distance of at least six feet between individuals cannot be maintained.”
Brown’s order continued, “Failure to comply with any of the provisions of this Executive Order constitutes an imminent threat and creates an immediate danger to public health,” and any persons violating the Order would be “subject to the penalties described in ORS 401.990.”
In a statement released to UFC.com ahead of SUG 12, Sonnen said, “I’m getting way too much credit for this… We had this on the calendar. A deal is a deal and we said we were moving forward and there’s a lot of people involved with this. People who have trained, people who have goals, people who, in all fairness, need to make a living. Not just the athletes, either; we’re talking production and everything. There’s just a lot of dominoes and if you say you’re going to do something in this space, you do it.”
In an interview with MMAFighting prior to SUG 12, Sonnen noted that questions about promotions’ coronavirus were “very fair,” but said that SUG had “brought in medical personnel, we’ve brought in experts, we’ll have everybody quarantine; we’ll follow every single rule that there is, no matter how many times that rule changes.”
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.