As early as Wednesday, UFC president Dana White had insisted that UFC 249 continue as scheduled on April 18.
But on Thursday White said, “Today we received a call from the highest level possible at Disney and from the highest level of ESPN.”
“ESPN has been very very good for us and the powers that be have asked me to step down and not do this event [April 18] “, He added in a video on social networks published by ESPN MMA.
ESPN and the UFC are in the midst of a US $ 1.5 billion five-year agreement signed in 2018. Disney is the parent company of ESPN.
“While the organization was fully ready to proceed with UFC 249, ESPN requested that the event and subsequent fighting be postponed until further notice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said l ‘UFC in a press release. “The UFC is looking forward to resuming the full schedule of live events as soon as possible. “
Thursday’s turnaround took place on the same day that California Senator Dianne Feinstein urged the mixed martial arts organization not to go ahead with the high performance that would have been scheduled on tribal lands near from Fresno.
The UFC has been forced to cancel several events recently due to the ban on public gatherings due to COVID-19. His latest show was a March 14 TV card in Brazil with no spectators.
But White had stood firm on the organization of UFC 249, which was originally intended to present a high-level clash between light champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and No. 1 competitor Tony Ferguson.
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He repeated this Wednesday in an ESPN interview while admitting that setting up the UFC 249 was “without a doubt the most difficult thing I have ever done … but it will happen on April 18”.
The UFC, which was one of the last sports organizations not to be locked, had not confirmed that UFC 249 would take place at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort in California. White was shy on the subject on Wednesday when questioned by ESPN, saying, “ESPN is where it is, that’s all you need to know. “
But he admitted on Thursday that UFC 249 would have taken place at Tachi Palace, adding that the fighters who were to participate – including Canadian Sarah Moras – would still be paid. And he promised the UFC would be the first sport to return.
The April 18 card was originally scheduled for Brooklyn, N.Y.
Moras, a bantamweight from Kelowna, British Columbia, who is now fighting from Las Vegas, said via social media that she had just finished her last fighting session when she got to her phone and discovered that the show was off. She had trained for combat in her living room and garage because of the restrictions on gatherings.
Concerns over California’s isolation laws
Confirming that the show was set for Monday, White tweeted that it would take place “somewhere on EARTH !!!! The UFC said there would be no spectators in the night battle and White added that everyone on the map wanted to fight.
Feinstein said she was concerned at reports that the à la carte event was to be held in California “in defiance of the establishment of a state shelter.”
“This event would involve dozens of people traveling to California and going to a casino for a purpose that no one can honestly claim to be essential,” she said in a statement.
While acknowledging that the event is outside state law as it is on tribal land, Feinstein said the show should not continue.
“At best, this event links medical resources and sends a message that orders for on-site shelters can be violated. At worst, participants and support staff could bring the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread.
“I call on the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the Tachi-Yokut tribe to reconsider this event and postpone it to a later date. We must be responsible and aware of all local, state and federal public health guidelines. Going ahead with this event is not the right move. ”
Justin Gaethje, ranked fourth among the 155 pound contenders, intervened for Nurmagomedov due to travel restrictions keeping the champion in his native Russia. Nurmagomedov trained in California, but returned home when the UFC had tentative plans to host the event in the United Arab Emirates.
Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have been officially booked to fight five times since December 2015 with a variety of injuries resulting in delays.
“Fight island is real”
The UFC was forced to postpone the maps originally scheduled for March 21 in London, March 28 in Columbus, Ohio and April 11 in Portland. The UFC originally planned to transfer them to the UFC Apex factory in Las Vegas behind closed doors due to local crowd restrictions.
But he was forced to look elsewhere after the restrictions were tightened.
White previously told TMZ that he plans to stage shows on a private island, flying fighters and support personnel on private planes. He told ESPN this week that he hoped to solve the problem soon, saying that he would lack talent if he could only use American fighters.
“Fight Island is real,” he told ESPN on Thursday.
The Association of Ringside Physicians has also requested that all combat sporting events be postponed until further notice.
“Any combat sport that takes place during this global pandemic puts the athletes, officials and everyone else involved in the event at unnecessary risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19,” he said in a press release from its board of directors.
“In addition, combat sports athletes often require medical attention after a fight, and we do not want to see additional pressure on an already overwhelmed medical system. “