As the sports world shuts down amid a coronavirus outbreak and pleas from experts to avoid large gatherings, UFC president Dana White is doing his best to proceed with as many events as he can.
White said on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Saturday night that only a total shutdown of the country — likely analogous to what is happening in Italy right now — will stop his promotion from holding fights.
Dana White refuses to cancel events over coronavirus
“The fans are all freakin’ out about that. Do not worry; Khabib versus Tony will happen.”@danawhite says only a “total shutdown of the country” would lead to fight cards like #UFC249 being canceled. (via @SportsCenter) pic.twitter.com/pliGtv4wc1
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 15, 2020
“Unless there’s a total shutdown of the country where people can’t leave their houses and things like that, these fights will happen,” White said. “We’re gonna move on. These guys will compete. We will find venues, and we will figure this thing out. I mean, the only thing that’s gonna stop us is a complete government shutdown where everyone is confined to their homes.”
The benefits for the UFC by doing this are pretty obvious: Not lose out one the millions of dollars at stake with multiple UFC events facing cancellation. Take advantage of a world thirsting for sporting events to watch and reap the financial windfall. Introduce millions of sports fans to the world of MMA.
The negatives are, well, endangering the lives of spectators and everyone in subsequent contact with them. Even holding events without spectators like at UFC Brasilia is questionable given that athletes are quite clearly not immune from the virus.
Where will the UFC go as coronavirus bans kick in?
The effects of coronavirus were first felt in the UFC world on Saturday when UFC Brasilia was held without spectators following an order of the local governor.
The UFC is still attempting to navigate the new normal of city and state governments banning large gatherings of people to slow down the spread of coronavirus, with all four of its events over the next month requiring relocation.
Those events are
UFC London, scheduled for March 21. Previously set to be held as planned, the event has to be relocated due to recent travel bans. It has also seen one of the fighters in the main event pull out. White said he is currently trying to put together a new card.
UFC Columbus, scheduled for March 28. That event was moved to the UFC APEX in Las Vegas after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order banning large crowds at events, only for the Nevada State Athletic Commission to also ban such events. White said he still wants the event to happen at a new location.
UFC Portland, scheduled for April 11. Same story; moved to Las Vegas after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an order banning crowds of more than 250 people, only for Nevada to also ban such events. White said he still wants the event to happen at a new location.
UFC 249, scheduled for April 18 in Brooklyn. Requires relocating after both New York and Nevada banned large gatherings. White said he will have two new venue options by Monday morning and insisted the main event — the lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson — will happen.
The cancellation or postponement of UFC 249, in particular, would be frustrating for fans as the matchup between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson has already seen a scheduled fight called off an incredible four different times.
According to one email acquired by ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, White’s company is pushing hard to find fighters willing to join its cards.
This is an email they are sending out to managers and reps about this new card next week. As you can see, they are even open to signing fighters who currently aren’t on the roster to fill it up, as well. pic.twitter.com/qYcYCDvdyo
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) March 15, 2020
UFC nearly alone in continuing to hold events despite coronavirus
Sports leagues that have suspended/delayed their seasons or canceled events include the NBA, NHL, MLB, NCAA, MLS, PGA Tour, England’s Premier League Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1.
The CDC recommended the cancellation or postponement of all events with more than 50 people on Sunday.
In justifying why he is still trying to hold events, White said Thursday he received advice from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to “be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking.”
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