- UFC 249 was originally scheduled for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
- Dana White was determined to go ahead with the show from a new venue.
- He relented after getting a call from ‘higher ups’ at ESPN
The April 18 UFC 249 fight card won’t be happening after all. At least it won’t be happening any time soon. The card was originally expected to be one of the UFC’s biggest events of the year due to the headline fight–a lightweight title bout between Tony Ferguson and champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The original plan went by the wayside almost a month ago when the state of New York’s response to the coronavirus pandemic made having the event in Brooklyn untenable.
Undeterred, Dana White started looking for an alternate venue and for a time it looked as if he’d settled on having the card at an ’empty arena’ as has become the norm for pro wrestling during the coronavirus pandemic. That didn’t work out either as the ’empty arena’ in question would have been the UFC’s production facility in Las Vegas. When the Nevada Athletic Commission temporarily suspended all fighter licenses and banned combat sports in the Silver State for the foreseeable future that plan was rendered unworkable as well.
Meanwhile, one half of the main event matchup not only skipped town but skipped the country. Khabib Nurmagomedov left his camp in California and returned home to Russia. His story on why he left camp and if he’d be willing to fight has changed a few times but with the logistics of travel becoming more difficult the UFC went on without him. White continued to look for a venue for the fight and had apparently secured one this time around–the Tachi Palace Casino Resort on tribal land outside Lemoore, California.
EVERYTHING UNRAVELS AT ONCE FOR UFC 249
The venue hadn’t ‘officially’ been announced when the plan to hold the fight on tribal land started to unravel. First, it was busybody California California Senator Dianne Feinstein strongly suggesting that the UFC and the Tachi-Yokut Tribe scrap their plans for the fight card:
“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. 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 and the UFC would have likely gone on with the fight were it just Fienstein calling for them to relent but on Thursday ‘the hammer’ dropped–the hammer in this instance being the higher ups at the UFC’s broadcast partner ESPN. Here’s how White explained it:
“This whole thing has been a battle since Day One. We’ve been fighting nonstop all day and night since this pandemic started to put on this event. Today we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney and ESPN. They have been very, very good to us, and the powers that be asked me to stand down and not do this event.”
Additional reports suggested that there were other ‘major players’ exerting pressure on the UFC to cancel the fight. California Governor Gavin Newsom didn’t want the event and got in contact with Disney President Bob Iger asking him to ‘force’ the UFC to cancel the event. Obviously, Iger is not a guy anyone wants to cross and particularly since Disney is the parent company of ESPN.
White also praised Taichi Palace for their support. The casino has been closed since March 20 but according to the UFC majordomo they were completely on board and UFC 249 was ready to go:
“We were ready to go. Tachi Palace has had our back this whole time, has stood their ground and was willing to do this fight. When the world gets back to normal, the California event will be there. We’re bringing them a big fight. I appreciate them standing with me in this whole thing.”
White also announced the postponement of all future UFC events though remained adamant that his promotion be the first major US sport to return to action.