Dana White’s plans to stubbornly push ahead with UFC 249 and other future events hit an iceberg and quickly sunk on Thursday.
ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reports that next Saturday’s event has been cancelled, while all other UFC events have been indefinitely postponed.
BREAKING: UFC 249 has been canceled. All UFC events postponed indefinitely, due to COVID-19. Dana White says he was ready to promote the event but things were taken out of his control. Much, much more on this to come.
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) April 9, 2020
Less than an hour earlier, California senator Dianne Feinstein issued a statement denouncing the event and asking both the UFC and the Tachi Palace Casino in central California, where UFC 249 would be held, to cancel the show.
— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) April 9, 2020
White claims “the highest level you could go at Disney and the highest you could go at ESPN” asked him to stand out from putting on the event.
UFC President Dana White spoke to Brett Okamoto about #UFC249 no longer taking place on April 18.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) April 9, 2020
White also vowed to take care of the fighters under contract (which is just vague enough that we have no idea what he actually means), hold a future event at the Tachi Palace in California, not lay off any UFC employees, that the UFC would be the first pro sport back underway in the US, and that the ridiculous private fight island was real, the infrastructure was under construction, and that it would be hosting fights in the future.
On Monday, the UFC announced the card for UFC 249, which would be a pay per view event. But that card in its announced form didn’t last year: Rose Namajunas pulled out of her fight with Jessica Andrade after two family members died after contracting COVID-19, and criticism against the UFC for pushing forward with this event continued to mount.
Cancelling UFC 249 was the right call for many reasons, including the ridiculousness of expecting fighters to be able to cut weight and get in a proper training camp in isolation, not to mention the obvious concerns about spreading COVID-19 even further or traveling to central California and contracting it on the way or at the venue. It’s also important to consider the local hospitals, which are rightfully concerned with treating COVID-positive patients and likely don’t have the flexibility to treat the several fighters that would undoubtedly require medical attention after fighting in a cage.
The worst thing for the UFC (and frankly, all pro sports) isn’t starting late and missing some extra revenue. It’s starting too early, and then having to shut down again if COVID-19 rears its ugly head and several athletes/coaches/other staffers contract the virus and unconsciously spread it throughout the ranks. Then, in addition to the lost revenue you were trying to avoid, you’re looking at a PR nightmare. The UFC attracted its share of criticism this week for its plans to proceed with UFC 249, but rational thinking eventually prevailed, and that potential PR catastrophe was avoided…for now.