After urging from President Trump, Dana White says he'll keep holding UFC events despite coronavirus

As sports leagues around the world suspend seasons and cancel events, UFC president Dana White told ESPN on Thursday that his promotion will continue holding events over the next month.

Some events will be moved to UFC’s 1,500-capacity Apex facility in Las Vegas, while Saturday’s UFC Brasilia event in Brazil will be held without spectators due to local measures taken against COVID-19.

White added that he had received counsel from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to not change his promotion’s schedule too much.

“[The UFC] always go overboard with health and safety, and that’s what we’re going to do here,” White said. “I talked to the president and the vice president of the United States today about this. They’re taking this very serious. They’re saying ‘Be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking.’”

“Everybody is panicking, and instead of panicking, we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how we keep the sport safe and how we can continue to put on events.”

White has a long history, both in politics and business, of ties to Trump. His company was arguably saved by Trump in its early days when local regulations made it difficult to hold events, leading to UFC 28, 30 and 31 to be held at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.

White has since appeared at multiple events in support of Trump, while the president and his family have attended UFC events and invited White to the White House during his term.

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - FEBRUARY 20: Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White greets President Donald Trump on stage during a Keep America Great rally on February 20, 2020 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Cory Gardner, a first-term Republican up for reelection this year, joined Trump at the rally. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
Dana White has been a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

UFC nearly alone in holding events with fans despite COVID-19 outbreak

Sports leagues that have suspended/delayed their seasons or canceled events include the NBA, NHL, MLB, NCAA, MLS, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1. The English Premier League, in the same country that White plans to hold an event as scheduled, seems on the verge of joining that group after a player and coach on separate teams tested positive for the virus.

One notable exception is the PGA Tour, whose president said it would continue hosting tournaments without spectators after consulting with Trump. Less than a day later, one of the Tour’s premier events, The Players Championship, was canceled after one round.

The advice of many experts and authorities has been to shut down events or severely limit attendance while the outbreak continues. That includes the governments of Ohio and Oregon, states that were supposed to host UFC events until they banned large gatherings.

How UFC is responding to the coronavirus

Here’s how the UFC’s schedule for the next month will shake out, according to White:

White did not discuss the status of the event after Portland, UFC 249. Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov remains scheduled to face challenger Tony Ferguson at the Barclays Center in New York City, where gatherings of more than 500 people were banned on Thursday.

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