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UFC to return to Jacksonville's VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena with 'full crowd'

Dana White, head of the mixed martial arts organization, announced that UFC 261 will be held at Jacksonville's VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For the second time in 11 months, UFC is coming to the First Coast.

And this time, it's planning to draw a crowd — in a sharp change from the norm during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dana White, head of the mixed martial arts organization, announced that UFC 261 will be held at Jacksonville's VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24.

White, who made the announcement on Twitter, said the event will include a "full crowd" of an estimated 15,000 fans.

Most sporting events, particularly those held indoors, have been held with reduced capacities due to COVID-19 protocols.

Portions of the fight card remain to be determined, but White announced UFC 261 will include three title fights.

The title fights are welterweights, Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal; women's flyweights, Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade; and women's strawweight, Weili Zhang vs. Rose Namajunas.

UFC made its first Jacksonville stop on May 9, 2020, the first major United States sporting event after the coronavirus pandemic had paused most athletic events for nearly two months.

That event, held without spectators inside the octagon at the arena, included two title fights as Justin Gaethje stopped Tony Ferguson and Henry Cejudo defeated Dominick Cruz in the pay-per-view UFC 249.

During its stop at the arena, UFC also held two additional Fight Nights on the following Wednesday and Saturday.

After the earlier fights in Jacksonville, White had said he planned to return UFC to the First Coast in the future.

It's not yet clear which COVID-19 safety protocols will be in effect for a "full crowd" event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. Other events at the arena, including Jacksonville Icemen hockey games, have been held with sharply reduced capacities.

The average attendance for Icemen home games this season has been 3,278, as recorded by the ECHL. 

This is a developing story.