Dana White won't let UFC 249 die as Khabib Nurmagomedov opts to remain in quarantine

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

The coronavirus is no hoax, nor an attempt to attack President Donald Trump, as so many Fox News anchors described it in January and February. Even the president, who repeatedly discounted the seriousness of the virus through February and in the early part of March, has changed his mind. He said at a news conference on Tuesday that the pandemic could kill could kill up to 240,000 Americans.

That’s staggering.

Trump’s sobering words Tuesday from the White House briefing room are in stark contrast to many of his remarks earlier in the year, when he downplayed the significance of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the American death toll passed 4,000.

Experts have insisted that the virus isn’t only impacting older persons or those with pre-existing health conditions. Even young, healthy people are being hospitalized and, in some cases, dying.

Even the foolish kid who on his spring break vacation on a beach in Florida dismissively said, “If I get corona, I get corona,” has apologized.

Still, though, UFC president Dana White has not given up hope of holding UFC 249 as scheduled on April 18 somewhere in the world. There was a glimmer of hope Wednesday morning, when Russian officials said they’d allow private planes out of the country.

That meant that lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was scheduled to face Tony Ferguson on April 18 in the show’s main event, would be able to fly to wherever it was held.

But those hopes were dashed not long after when Nurmagomedov went onto social media and said he’d decided to stay at home in quarantine and not fight.

“It turns out that the whole world should be in quarantine,” he wrote. “Governments of all countries, famous people around the world urge people to follow all safety requirements in order to limit the spread of the disease.”

But Nurmagomedov’s post didn’t sway White, who remained at his Las Vegas home working feverishly on putting the fight together. Asked for reaction to Nurmagomedov’s post, White said via text message, “Everyone knew he’s not fighting.”

Dana White with Khabib Nurmagomedov during a press conference for UFC 229 on Oct. 4, 2018, at the Park Theater in Las Vegas. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Dana White with Khabib Nurmagomedov during a press conference for UFC 229 on Oct. 4, 2018, at the Park Theater in Las Vegas. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Asked if he’d come up with a new main event — rumors have swirled about a Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje main — or a location where he could put the show on, White declined.

“I’m not telling the media anything about the details of the fight,” he wrote.

That’s evidence, though, that he’s continuing to move forward with his attempts to stage the bout. On Wednesday, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak released a stay-at-home order and extended his closure of the state’s casinos until at least April 30.

Given the majority of UFC employees — and White himself — live in Nevada, it seems beyond belief that they’ll be able to leave their homes to fly elsewhere to help stage a fight card.

Sisolak’s order should have been the death knell for UFC 249, but after everything White’s done to make this event happen, including calls with the White House, he isn’t giving up that easily.

And so he maintained an uncharacteristic silence, at war with a media that wanted to see Nurmagomedov and Ferguson fight almost badly as he wanted to stage it. 

The UFC has looked into all sorts of precautions, including having the announcers call the fight from a remote location instead of at Octagon-side and severely limiting the amount of people allowed into the fight venue, wherever in the world it may be.

But because of the highly contagious nature of the disease, it seems impossible to pull it off safely. Even if none of the fighters or the support personnel who needs to attend the show gets the virus, they could serve as carriers and pass it on to others.

When people ignore stay-at-home orders and social-distancing recommendations, it simply prolongs the life of the virus and makes it a more significant threat than it already has proven to be.

Infectious disease experts are just about unanimous in the opinion that the only way to slow the spread of the virus is to stay away from others. 

The beauty of the UFC is that the best fighters in the world in peak physical condition compete against each other regularly on the biggest platform in sports. We shouldn’t accept any less, and having fighters compete who haven’t been able to train properly is doing exactly that.

I want to see UFC 249 — and UFC 250 and 251 and 252 and every other card planned — but I want to see it when traveling won’t pose a risk to the public health, when the fighters are at their best after a long training camp and when we don’t have to worry about gathering in large numbers to see it.

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