By Mike Bohn |
April 9, 2020 11:35 pm
ESPN stands by its call to influence the UFC to postpone UFC 249 and all scheduled events indefinitely in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, UFC president Dana White announced the April 18 card he was pushing so hard for in recent weeks was not going to take place. White said he had to “stand down” after high-ranking ESPN and Disney executives made it known they did not want the fight card to go down during a global health crisis.
ESPN reinforced that belief in an official statement, which was obtained by MMA Junkie.
“ESPN has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249,” the statement read. “Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons. ESPN expressed its concerns to the UFC, and they understood.”
Although White pointed to Disney and ESPN as responsible for calling off the card, California Gov. Gavin Newsom also reportedly had influence over the matter and pushed Disney to stop the show.
Last month, White made it clear that he “didn’t “give a sh*t about the coronavirus.” One week later on March 14, the UFC held an event behind closed doors in Brasilia, Brazil, even as the rest of the sports world – including the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball – seemingly had shut down. It wasn’t until bans on large gatherings around the nation and global travel restrictions picked up that the UFC postponed three events between March and early April.
Despite that, White insisted UFC 249 would press forward, even after losing its originally anticipated lightweight title headliner between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. An interim title bout between Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, as well as a new slate of rescheduled and remade fights, were announced for the card.
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UFC 249 was reported to take place at Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, Calif., which White confirmed. It was the promotion’s way of bypassing statewide stay-at-home orders as the casino is located on federally recognized tribal land and exempt from such orders. White said he had booked the venue for two months to consistently host events; he’d also secured a private island for international fights to keep the promotion running.
Although never officially announced, Tachi Palace became well known as the venue for UFC 249. Several sanctioning bodies – including the California State Athletic Commission, which refused to regulate UFC 249 – expressed concern over the situation. That was followed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California condemning the UFC’s attempt to host UFC 249.
“At best this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted,” Feinstein said in a statement. “At worst, participants and support staff could carry the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread.”