UFC Brasilia was a night of many firsts for Enrique Barzola.
It was the first time Barzola (16-5-2 MMA, 6-3-1 UFC) fought in Brazil, made a cut down to bantamweight, fought to a draw in the UFC, and also competed in an empty arena.
Nilson Nelson Gymnasium, an arena built to hold over 10,000 fans, was empty due a ban on mass gatherings related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Peruvian fighter took veteran Rani Yahya to a draw. It was a back-and-forth affair that was only witnessed by fans watching on television and officials and staff in attendance on Saturday.
Sporting events in Brazil’s capital were banned, as well as masses and church services, schools, and concerts.
Barzola says it was bizarre scene fighting with no fans present.
“It was strange,” Barzola told MMA Junkie in Spanish. “It’s very unfortunate that this happened with the whole coronavirus, but we have to respect the laws of every country, the whole world actually. So the time went by longer, it seemed the fighters had more time to focus, and there was a little less adrenaline.
“You have to keep in mind that when there’s strikes, takedowns, and other things, the crowd lights up and that energy activates the fighter and that fuels you. So I went through that, it was very different, and in a few moments I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ Some maybe were more focused, but I think some others were not.”
The winner of season two of “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America” believes the lack of fans could have affected fighters competing on UFC Brasilia. However, Barzola felt prepared given previous experiences.
“I felt focused,” Barzola explained. “You have to remember I fought on ‘TUF’ and that was really just UFC staff and your teammates. So yeah, I felt great.”
Having experienced both worlds, Barzola says he prefers to fight with a crowd present.
“I think everyone likes to fight with the crowd,” Barzola said. “We’re fighters and were made to entertain the crowd. I think the crowd is a very important factor because it fuels the fighters, so you feel more the adrenaline, the nerves and all that. But yeah that’s what makes a fighter feel like a warrior stepping into battle. We didn’t get to live that (at UFC Brasilia) and we missed out on that energy, but that’s how things presented themselves and we just had to fight.”
Leading up to the event there was plenty of uncertainty whether or not the fights would go down. Barzola admits there were some concerns during fight week, but he had to remain focused, given that it was his first weight cut to 135 pounds. Barzola previously fought at featherweight, which forced him to cut 10 extra pounds compared to previous fights.
“Globally there were a lot of fights canceled and many other events, so yeah, during the week my team and I thought there was a chance the UFC would cancel the event,” Barzola said. “But I kept focused at all times. I was focused on my weight because that was my main concern and obviously, I didn’t get careless with my weight. I kept advancing with my weight cut.”
With several upcoming UFC events postponed, it’s still uncertain how long the coronavirus pandemic will alter the UFC’s schedule in the coming weeks and months.
If all goes well, Barzola plans to return this summer. He wouldn’t mind getting a new opponent, but he’s also interested in a rematch with Yahya.
“I’m ready to fight with him and he knows I’m stronger than him and I’ll approach things differently in a rematch,” Barzola said. “My body accepted the new weight and I’ll come out even more confident for that rematch.”
Original article: https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/2020/03/ufcs-enrique-barzola-recalls-fighting-empty-arena-coronavirus-was-strange/