Disney, ESPN told Dana White to shut down UFC 249, future fights
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.”
White says he got a call from Disney, which owns ESPN, telling him to not go forward with the event and try to circumvent the government rules.
“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.