After defiantly swearing for weeks to maintain a regular schedule of fights while the rest of the sports world stopped, White confirmed the decision to cease competition in an Associated Press text.
“I was ready to go on Saturday, but Disney and ESPN asked me to resign,” White wrote. “I love and respect my partnership with them, so I postponed the event.”
UFC 249 was slated for April 18 on ESPN Plus à la carte, and White planned to follow him with regular combat cards from the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino on tribal lands in the central California valley.
In an interview with ESPN, White said he “received a call from the highest level possible at Disney and the highest level from ESPN” asking him to cancel the shows. The UFC moved to ESPN in 2019 with an announced $ 1.5 billion deal.
Although the UFC has no fights in the coming weeks, White said he was continuing his plan to build an octagon and everything else needed to televise small combat broadcasts on a private island not identified. White planned to use the so-called “Fight Island” in the coming months for non-American fighters who could not enter the United States.
“Fight Island’s infrastructure is under construction and will be operational as soon as possible,” White told the PA.
White’s frustration with Disney’s decision was evident after he had repeatedly sworn to fight in the midst of mixed public opinion. He described the last month of preparation for UFC 249 as the most difficult part of his combat promotion career, which began as president of the UFC in 2001.
The boss of the UFC has always remained optimistic, promising to be “the first sport to return” after the pandemic has subsided.
White announced the cancellation shortly after US Senator Dianne Feinstein issued a statement urging the promotion of mixed martial arts to reconsider his plan. A few hours earlier, former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas had given up her co-main bout at UFC 249 after two pandemic deaths in her family.
The UFC planned to organize the fighting in an empty arena belonging to the Santa Rosa Indian community of the Tachi Yokut tribe. White never publicly disclosed the location of the next combat maps until he announced their cancellation, presumably to avoid the scrutiny that occurred shortly after the location was reported in MMA media to over the weekend.
“Tachi’s palace has supported us all this time, resisted and was ready to lead this fight,” White told ESPN.
White also promised to pay off that loyalty with an upcoming show: “I’m going to bring them a big fight, and I appreciate them being by my side in this matter. “
Tribal lands are not subject to the on-site shelters of the state government, and Tachi Palace has a long history of hosting combat sporting events in Lemoore, California, approximately 40 miles south of Fresno.
“This event would involve dozens of people traveling to California and going to the casino for a purpose that no one can honestly claim to be essential,” wrote Feinstein. “At best, this event links medical resources and sends a message that on-site shelter orders can be violated. At worst, participants and support staff could bring the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread. “
Although White’s plan to keep his fighters employed was ultimately thwarted, he promised to minimize the economic disruption of the pandemic for UFC fighters and employees. White and former owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta sold the UFC to Endeavor for around $ 4 billion in 2016.
“All of my fighters who are under contract with me, I want them to feel safe,” said White. “Take time with your families and take advantage of this time. Don’t worry about the financial part of this. You’re going to get the fights on your contract, and I’m going to work things out with the people who were ready to fight and fight next weekend. I’ll take care of as many people as possible. “
White also spoke to UFC employees: “No one is fired at the UFC. Everyone is good. “
The UFC held a full combat card in an empty arena in Brazil last month in the early days of the global pandemic response, but canceled its following three shows after attempting to hold two of the cards in an arena vacuum belonging to the UFC in Las Vegas. The Nevada State Athletic Commission’s temporary ban on combat sports ended the plan.