After days of publicly downplaying the risks of holding UFC events in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, UFC president Dana White is falling in line with the rest of the sports world.
White reportedly sent an email to UFC employees on Monday to inform them that UFC events on March 21, March 28 and April 11 have been indefinitely postponed.
The next three UFC events - 3/21, 3/28, 4/11 — have officially been canceled. Dana White officially made the call to employees earlier today. UFC 249’s fate has not been decided. Unclear if the fighters scheduled to compete on those cards will be compensated in any way.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) March 16, 2020
The decision comes just two days after saying it would take a total shutdown of the United States to stop him from holding fights.
Dana White follows Trump’s lead on coronavirus
White’s reversal was first reported less than an hour after President Donald Trump, a friend of White’s, acknowledged the threat of the coronavirus and advised against gatherings of more than 10 people. White had previously cited a discussion with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as one of the reasons why he was still trying to hold UFC events with fans.
In explaining his decision on SportsCenter, White said he had an agreement to hold the March 21 event at Fire Lake Arena on a Native American reservation in Oklahoma, but finally pulled the plug after Trump indicated doing so would be unsafe.
Dana White on SportsCenter: We were ready to go live from Fire Lake Arena, an Indian reservation in Oklahoma, on Saturday. But the President just spoke to the country. Now they’re saying no more than 10 in a room. That’s impossible. We can’t do it.— Marc Raimondi (@marc_raimondi) March 16, 2020
Part of White’s email, via ESPN:
"As you've heard me say, I've been in the fight game for 20 years, and this is what we do -- we find a way to keep our events going no matter what," White wrote in the email, which ESPN obtained a copy of. "But this is different. The whole world is being affected right now, and nothing is more important than the health and safety of you and your families."
The decision will put the UFC in line with nearly every other major sports league that has suspended its season or cancelled events, including the NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA, PGA Tour and several soccer leagues.
UFC events had lost venues due to coronavirus
The writing had likely been on the wall for days before White made his decision. Here was the status of every UFC event scheduled for the next month:
UFC London, scheduled for March 21. White had previously said the event would be held as planned, until the event had to be relocated due to recent travel bans. It had also seen one of the fighters in the main event pull out. White tried to put together a new card, and said he was going to have two new venue options by Monday morning.
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 had still been looking for 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 had still been looking for a new location.
What of UFC 249 and coronavirus?
White stopped short of postponing the event directly following April 11, and for a clear reason.
UFC 249, previously scheduled to be held in Brooklyn on April 18, is scheduled to feature the lightweight title fight between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and challenger Tony Ferguson, a highly anticipated bout partially because a fight between those two fighters has been called off a whopping four different times in the past.
Now, the fight doesn’t have a home, and the UFC could be looking at calling off a fifth Nurmagomedov-Ferguson fight. White guaranteed on SportsCenter that the fight will happen on April 18, even if he has to move it out of the United States.
White guarantees Khabib v Ferguson will happen on April 18. “We're hoping this all clears up by April, and this fight is going to happen. Whatever it takes, probably not in the United States, but this fight is going to happen."— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) March 16, 2020
We’ll see if he ends up having to reverse course again.
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