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.
UFC President @danawhite joined @SportsCenter to confirm reports that #UFCBrasilia will take place in an empty arena with only “the staff that’s running event."— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 13, 2020
He added that #UFCLondon "will proceed as planned" and #UFCColumbus be moved to the UFC Apex facility. pic.twitter.com/IqjcvWdXEO
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.
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:
UFC Brasilia, scheduled for March 14, will be held without spectators by order of the local governor.
UFC London, scheduled for March 21, will be held as planned.
UFC Columbus, scheduled for March 28, will move to the UFC Apex arena after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order banning large crowds at events.
UFC Portland, scheduled for April 11, will move to the UFC Apex arena after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an order banning crowds of more than 250 people.
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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