Is UFC running into COVID-19 hurdles too high to clear?

Ken Pishna
MMA Weekly
Dana White UFC Brooklyn Post-Fight
Dana White UFC Brooklyn Post-Fight

UFC president Dana White has been defiant in his approach to running his business in the wake of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. But as measures around the globe get more and more strict, is he running into hurdles that are too high for him to reasonably clear?

White told ESPN recently, “Unless there is a total shutdown of the country where people can’t leave their houses and things like that. These fights will happen. We’re going to move on and these guys are going to compete. We will find venues and we will figure this thing out. The only thing that is going to stop us is a complete government shutdown where people are confined to their homes.”

Despite his best efforts to move forward with UFC events – even behind closed doors – the restrictions in place around the globe have escalated at a pace that White may not be able to get ahead of. 

Mass gatherings have been shut down around the world, forcing last weekend's UFC on ESPN+ 28 in Brasilia to take place in an empty 16,000-seat arena.

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is going to make it more difficult for even that scenario to take place as White focuses on running events in the United States.

"CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States."

That is, of course, guidance and not yet a governmental policy that would legally restrict the UFC. But with the COVID-19 pandemic raising unprecedented concern around the globe, many governmental entities are becoming quicker to follow the guidance of organizations such as the CDC and the World Health Organization when instituting new policies.

Many municipalities across the United States are forcing businesses that normally bring large amounts of people together – such as bars, restaurants, theaters, and gyms – to either restrict their operations or close them outright.

Many businesses are voluntarily changing the way they operate. Starbucks announced that it is moving to a to-go only operation at its company owned locations for at least the next few weeks. REI and other stores have announced temporary store closures in an attempt to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Most major sports leagues and events have been postponed or canceled outright. The NBA, MLB, NHL, and PGA have all postponed or paused their seasons and events. The NCAA canceled its popular Division I Men's and Women's basketball tournaments (March Madness). The International Olympic Committee is slated to hold talks later this week about whether or not to cancel the 2020 Summer Olympics scheduled for July 24 in Tokyo.

With so much momentum rolling toward the "complete government shutdown" that White mentioned, UFC officials could find themselves without any options. 

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White is currently trying to move the former UFC London card scheduled for Saturday, March 21, to a U.S. location, but is running out of time to make the move. And if U.S. based locations become too restrictive, there is little else he can do to keep the upcoming slate of event intact. 

The majority of the roster is based in the United States with a number of other fighters scattered around the globe. With international travel becoming more and more restricted as the virus spreads, international locations have to be nearly impossible for the U.S. based company to facilitate.

While White is trying to keep any semblance of normalcy to the UFC, these times are anything but normal, and it is looking more and more like he is going to be forced into following suit with the other major sports organizations around the world.

The World Health Organization has the following advice for the public to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) :

Wash your hands frequently

  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

Maintain social distancing

  • Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

  • Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.

Practice respiratory hygiene

  • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

  • Why? Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.

If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early

  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

  • Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent spread of viruses and other infections.

Stay informed and follow advice given by your healthcare provider

  • Stay informed on the latest developments about COVID-19. Follow advice given by your healthcare provider, your national and local public health authority or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

  • Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on whether COVID-19 is spreading in your area. They are best placed to advise on what people in your area should be doing to protect themselves.

The Center for Disease Control also warns that older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. Please consult with your health care provider about additional steps you may be able to take to protect yourself.

For more information on preventing the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19):

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