Combat Sports

Zuhosky’s Take #6: Submission Underground Prevails Despite Pandemic

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Flashback: March 11, 2020: Just prior to the start of a scheduled Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder game in the NBA, referees held a meeting concerning the status of the contest.

A pause was held for several minutes as this meeting progressed, and afterward, the decision to cancel the game was made, with the public address announcer assuring the spectators:

“You’re all safe.”

At the time of the postponement, no reason was given as to why the basketball game was called off, but within the next couple of hours, it would become clear. Utah center Rudy Gobert became the first athlete in an American professional sports league to return a positive test for the novel coronavirus disease (hereafter referred to as COVID-19), which had just been declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization the same day.

In the immediate aftermath of that game’s postponement, all sports leagues that were supposed to have been in-season at the time of Gobert’s positive test suspended competition or cancelled remaining events for the balance of the season (as was the case for the NCAA and Major League Rugby).

Every sports league and combat sports promotion was out of action temporarily due to COVID-19.

Every sports organization except Chael Sonnen’s Submission Underground promotion, which had a card scheduled for three weekends later, March 29, 2020 and SUG 12 on UFC Fight Pass.

Submission Underground Withstands Stay-At-Home Edict To Put Cards On Uninterrupted

In the days which followed COVID-19 being declared a pandemic by the WHO, any remaining combat sports promotions that had yet to suspend competition did so, with the UFC cancelling all then-upcoming cards just a few days after it held a UFC Fight Night in Brazil without ticketed spectators.

Every state in the country went under a strict stay-at-home order as a means of defense against COVID-19, including Oregon, where SUG 12 was slated to have taken place later in March of 2020.

In the run-up to the first Submission Underground event without a live audience, Sonnen was interviewed by USA Today’s MMA Junkie, saying to John Morgan that he had no plans to cancel the event, explaining his rationale with the following:

“It’s all a big puzzle, right? And there’s so many pieces to this. It’s been so challenging– and not just for us– but everybody can share this, is that the rules have changed constantly. Like you do a sport, and you’ve got the sport. You’ve got the athletes. You’ve got star-building. You’ve got production. At the end of the day, though, a big piece of the pie is you’re in the regulation business, because, when all is said and done, somebody else is telling you what to do. The good news there is it’s generally set forward. You generally have a book on it. You’ve got a manual. You study up on it. You move forward.”

Submission Underground Moves On In Empty Arena

Eventually, COVID-19 restrictions on people in buildings precluded having more than eight people in the same venue, but nevertheless, Submission Underground moved forward without paid spectators beginning with SUG 12.

In the same interview with John Morgan, Sonnen reiterated that SUG 12 would be presented live on UFC Fight Pass on its scheduled fight night without delay, adding:

“When things are changing daily, and every day the only thing you know for sure is that something’s going to change that wasn’t true as of yesterday, yeah, it can be done, but it’s still important, It’s still the job. Regulation and compliance is here for a reason.”

Chael Sonnen took these safety measures to help Submission Underground proceed without delay:

  • No paid spectators
  • No press
  • Athletes stationed in motorhomes close to the event site
  • No more than three people in the cage (both competitors and the match referee) at one time
  • Cage cleaned between matches
  • Commentary featured Sonnen calling fights without an analyst.

These safety measures have been in place by Submission Underground for the last 16 months and. Since then, the grappling promotion has put on 14 cards– all on time and without interruption.

Submission Underground Comes Out of Pandemic Victorious

Despite COVID-19 being what it has been, Submission Underground has emerged from the pandemic a clear winner in the combat sports landscape.

For a while, Submission Underground events were the only live sporting events scheduled during a Sunday night timeslot due to COVID-19 cancelling all sports in the early days of the pandemic.

Even though the promotion and Chael Sonnen were dealt a difficult hand last year, they were able to turn their cards into aces and have kept their winning hand all throughout COVID-19.

Submission Underground’s first show with a paying audience in nearly a year and a half went down recently as SUG 25 happened July 18 on UFC Fight Pass, which featured the main event between Pedro Marinho and Andy Varela.

On Aug. 15, SUG 26 will take place, with attendance capped at 100 spectators and a full 10-fight card.

Final Thoughts

As a fan of Submission Underground, one piece of advice:

Don’t you dare miss the next Submission Underground.

You’ll miss something amazing if you don’t tune in.

Follow me on Twitter at @DrewZuhosky to see my latest work. Follow us on social media at @OTHeroicsMMA to stay tuned in with our content! Please visit our web page to keep up with everything MMA!

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about MMA since the spring of 2018. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew enjoys a good game and an even better fight. When he's not writing, you can find him playing video games and listening to music.