Dana White says revitalized UFC 249 'could get better,' but won't be at Fight Island

When I suggested to Dana White that the card he planned to put together for May 9 might be top to bottom the strongest card in the promotion’s 26-plus-year history, White agreed and then snickered.

“It could get better,” White said. “It really could. You look at that card and it’s stacked, but I have some fights I’m working on, if I get them done, this card is going to be absolutely crazy.”

First reported by ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, White is looking to put on a packed card on May 9 that will include three title fights for just the sixth time in UFC history. There were three title fights at UFC 245 on Dec. 14 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Prior to that, there were three title fights at UFC 33, UFC 205, UFC 214 and UFC 217.

As it stands now, Tony Ferguson will meet Justin Gaethje in the main event for the interim lightweight title. Henry Cejudo will defend the bantamweight championship against Dominick Cruz, and Amanda Nunes will make the first defense of her featherweight crown against Felicia Spencer.

But the card, which will be known as UFC 249, is far deeper. Francis Ngannou will fight Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Jeremy Stephens will meet Calvin Kattar to round out the main card as it stands now. The rest of the card tentatively looks like this:

  • Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis

  • Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan de Castro

  • Alexei Oleinik vs. Fabricio Werdum

  • Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson

  • Jacare Souza vs. Uriah Hall

  • Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price

  • Charles Rosa vs. Bryce Mitchell

That’s incredibly deep, and no card has ever had the depth of talent and intriguing matches that this one shows at this stage.

FILE - In this June 8, 2019, file photo, Tony Ferguson, right, punches Donald Cerrone, left, during their lightweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 238 in Chicago. The UFC says Ferguson will fight Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title in the main event of UFC 249 on April 18, 2020. The mixed martial arts promotion announced the matchup Monday, April 6, 2020. Gaethje replaces lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is apparently unable to leave Russia during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)
FILE - In this June 8, 2019, file photo, Tony Ferguson punches Donald Cerrone during their lightweight bout at UFC 238 in Chicago. The UFC says Ferguson will fight Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title in the main event of UFC 249 on May 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)

White would not say where UFC 249 would be held, though he said it would not be at Fight Island, the private island that he acquired so that international fighters who are having difficulty getting into the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic will have a place to go.

White told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday that Fight Island will be ready in the middle of May.

“We’re going to run through the American fighters pretty quickly, so we have to get that up and ready to roll,” White said.

Florida opened the door for the potential for boxing and MMA in the state when Gov. Ron DeSantis ruled on April 9 that the WWE is an essential service which allows it to keep filming shows in Orlando.

White doesn’t want to tip his hand where he plans to put the show because UFC 249 on April 18 was postponed when ESPN asked the UFC to stand down. ESPN was reacting to a request from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has a strict shelter-in-place in order on the books and was not happy that UFC 249 would be within the state’s borders on tribal land at the Tachi Palace Casino in Lemoore.

Not all of the fights are signed, and given the fluidity of the situation with the coronavirus pandemic, there likely will be changes.

But White said he has a list of fighters who are anxious to compete.

“It’s been a long time and we have a lot of guys who want to fight,” White said. “Believe me when I tell you, I agree with you that top to bottom, this is probably the best card we’ve ever done, but it could get better.”

What will be fascinating to see if the card comes together in this form and isn’t stopped for pandemic-related reasons is the ratings on ESPN and the sales on pay-per-view. The ratings for the prelims on ESPN figure to be astronomical, because there are no other live sports on TV, hasn’t been for a while and nothing else appears set to go.

The PPV portion of the card would be a huge seller in normal times, but during the pandemic when many people have lost their jobs or taken pay cuts, it’s unclear how many will be willing to buy the show.

Cards don’t always live up to their billing, but there are so many good matchups on this proposed show that it seems a no-brainer it’s going to be an outstanding show.

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