Dana White tried his best to keep the UFC train going, but his plans have been put on hold.
UFC 249 will not take place on April 18 as White was planning, the UFC boss said on Thursday.
The UFC was one of the last pro sports leagues to actually cancel events, waiting well until all other major pro sports had done so before cancelling its last three events. They were planning to go forward with UFC 249 despite the COVID-19 related shutdown rules around the country.
White arranged to have UFC 249 take place at Tachi Palace in Lemoore, Calif., which is on tribal land, as an effort to avoid the California shelter-in-place mandates. Two days after the New York Times reported about the fight location plans, California senator Dianne Feinstein released a statement saying she was “concerned” about the event.
“I’m concerned by reports that Ultimate Fighting Championship plans to hold a pay-per-view event in California, in defiance of the state’s shelter-in-place order,” Feinstein said in her statement. “This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a purpose no one can honestly claim is essential.
“I understand this event is scheduled to take place on tribal land and therefore is not subject to state law. However, at best this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted. At worst, participants and support staff could carry the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread.”
“Today, we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level at ESPN … and the powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event on Saturday,” White told ESPN.
White likely had been so adamant about carrying forward with the planned fight schedule due to financial pressure from his parent company. WME/IMG bought the UFC for $4 billion and is heavily in debt. They need revenue/cash flow to pay their loans or risk running into issues with their creditors. The UFC must put on 42 shows a year for ESPN in order to collect its annual payment of over $600 million, so their parent company is concerned about losing that much-needed money.
Jose Aldo was supposed to fight Henry Cejudo in the main event of UFC 250 next month, but Aldo is off the card. Combate reported Wednesday night that Aldo, who is Brazilian, has an expired work visa. The American Embassy is not processing new ones during the coronavirus pandemic, which will prevent Aldo from being able to fight in the U.S. for the event.
Instead, Dominick Cruz will be the replacement for Aldo. Cruz even has already called out Cejudo for the May 9 event.
Dear @HenryCejudo, The real king has already been told that we’re fighting May 9th. I’ll see you there. P.S. -Bring your other tiny lil friend @cptdasamericas so I can slap you both around. -Signed, Sealed, Delivered-
Dana White has insisted at every turn that UFC 249 scheduled for April 18 would not be canceled. He and the UFC reportedly are looking to a possible legal loophole in order to conduct the fight, but there may be a problem.
Jeff Sherwood, the founder of MMA publication Sherdog, reported on Monday that the UFC was planning to host its next four scheduled events at Tachi Palace in Lemoore, Calif.
Tachi Palace is a casino located near Fresno, Calif. in the central valley area of the state (the casino has been closed since March 20). It is located on land belonging to the Tachi-Yokut Tribe, part of the federally recognized Santa Rosa Indian Community.
Tachi Palace hosts boxing and MMA fights regularly (LBS has even covered boxing fights there in the past). Because it is located on sovereign land, fights hosted there do not necessarily need to be subjected to sanctioning by the state’s athletic commission.
But there could be a problem for White with this sovereign-land loophole.
Public Law 280 is a federal law establishing “a method whereby States may assume jurisdiction over reservation Indians.” California is one of six states that has federal law enforcement authority within tribal nations. That means California’s government could theoretically attempt to use this law to shut down the UFC’s attempt to stage the fights.
Would this actually happen? It’s hard to say, but it’s obvious that the intent of the UFC is to avoid current state rules in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. The event was originally scheduled to take place in Brooklyn, New York, but the government is not allowing non-essential businesses to operate, which means the UFC fights wouldn’t be allowed to take place there currently.
Dana White drew attention online after telling TMZ Sports that he was in the process of securing a private island for UFC fights to take place. Naturally, his proclamation led to many jokes online about what that island would look like. The jokes ranged from “Enter the Dragon” to “Austin Powers” references.
White said in his interview that he is setting up shop at a venue he has secured for two months. After the fights are hosted at the undisclosed venue, UFC events could begin taking place at an island.
“I have a private island that I’ve secured,” White said. “We’re putting in the infrastructure now. So I’m going to start doing the international fights soon.”
White pointed out that having fights on an island would allow for international fighters to compete because there are currently travel restrictions into the U.S. He also made sure to say there would be plenty of testing for anyone who goes to the venue, and also said there would not be any fans.
“As of April 18, the UFC is back up and running.”
If you’re wondering why the UFC has been pushing so hard to host events during the pandemic, look no further than their financial situation to explain things. The UFC was bought by WME/IMG in 2016 for $4 billion. Their parent company is in serious debt, which has put pressure on the UFC to bring in much-needed revenue.
The location for the fight has not yet been disclosed. White likely knows the location, or the possible locations, but does not want to share that information to prevent backlash for hosting a fight during the coronavirus pandemic while many states are under lockdown orders from the government.
Ferguson was originally scheduled to face Khabib Nurmagomedov in a highly-anticipated fight, but that will no longer be taking place. Khabib flew home to Russia and expressed concerns about traveling and fighting during the pandemic.
Ferguson is 25-3 in his career and has not lost since 2012.
Dana White shared some noteworthy news on Saturday night while responding to a fake tweet.
An impostor on Twitter who was posing as ESPN MMA reporter Ariel Helwani said that White and Vladimir Putin reached a deal for Khabib Nurmagomedov to travel to the United States to fight Tony Ferguson in their anticipated UFC 249 fight.
Again, the report was completely inaccurate and was just something an impostor account made up to try and fool people. Still, White responded to the tweet like it came from a real account. In the process, he shared some news, and that is that Khabib will not be involved in the fight card. He also said he would be revealing the full fight card on Monday.
Absolutely NOT true!!! The card is happening but @TeamKhabib is out. I will announce the entire card tomorrow.
Khabib has made it seem like he would not be fighting Ferguson as planned. He left San Jose where he trains for his home in Russia and encouraged people to follow social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. The current belief is that Ferguson will face Justin Gaethje in the main event.
The UFC has canceled its last three events due to the coronavirus, but they have been trying hard to make sure UFC 249 goes through. The event was initially scheduled to take place in Brooklyn but will now take place in a location that has not yet been revealed.
The UFC was bought by WME/IMG in 2016 for $4 billion. Their parent company is in serious debt, which has put additional pressure on the UFC to put on shows during this time to bring in revenue.