No crowds has provided a different, possibly more theatrical viewing experience
Francis Ngannou practically steamrolled Jairzinho Rozenstruick back in May. Fighting on UFC 249, the first event UFC put on since COVID-19 forced the promotion to halt their 2020 schedule, Ngannou picked up a victory which saw him quickly floor Rozenstruick with hooks to the head.
Ngannou is known for quick and explosive victories that knock his opponents out. Instead of being met by an uproar of fans screaming, he was met with a trio of shouting commentators and a few claps from his corner – that’s it. While still feeling the adrenaline rush of a victory, Ngannou didn’t share that feeling with a live crowd, as COVID-19 protocols have kept audiences out of closed door events.
Near silent apart from analysis from commentators, the UFC broadcast showed Rozenstruick attempting to figure out where he was. The silence was comparable to how sports crowds act when basketball or hockey players are down and hurt.
The moment in Jacksonville, Florida, USA, was one of the many in MMA that has felt different due to COVID-19 restrictions. Without a live crowd, the sport has become less like a concert and more like a theatre performance.
Now, what was previously unheard is at the forefront. The strikes that land have landed harder than ever. The conversations during fights – which yes, they do happen, are heard more than ever. And when something sad, or even scary happens, it can provide a brutal silence.
No crowds have provided moments where dialog has not been available before. Moments like recently at UFC 256, where Kevin Holland proclaimed he felt he was in a dream when fighting Jacare Souza – and moments later knocking out the veteran.
It has created moments where fighters like Sean Strickland and Hakeem Dawodu have pleaded with their opponent to be more aggressive – and sometimes subsequently be warned for swearing by the referee afterwards.
Without the white noise that is upwards of a few thousand fans, the broadcasts offer what can feel like the soundtrack to a battleground, as two corners scream advice at their fighters. All corners have their own approaches, but in intense moments their shouts only make the moment more hectic.
On the flipside, the voice of the people has been more controlled than ever, as the only people on broadcasts that help provide opinion are commentators. While commentators are an important role that can help guide viewers through exchanges in fights or situations during a show, the crowd were a more raw representation of a fanbase. Crowds played a more uncensored role, often voicing their opinions at events through cheers, boos, notoriously: woos, and sometimes chants.
While the opinion of the people has not proven to be flawless, sometimes booing fight stoppages done out of the safety of those competing, that platform has been gone recently.
While intensity has certainly been present at events in 2020, the feeling of a live crowd at an event is still missed. Some of the greatest moments in the sport were only supplemented by a hot crowd that were over the moon for one of their favorite stars.
There is no doubt that most people prefer crowds and cannot wait for them to return. But after adapting to the new setting that is no-crowd events, the events have been interesting in a completely new form.