Not even a private island or a venue on an Indian Reservation could save UFC 249, as late Thursday afternoon, UFC President Dana White announced the cancellation of the card after it was reported that he received calls from ESPN’s parent company, Disney, to stand down and not hold the event.
Up until this point, unlike almost every other sport, White was hoping the UFC could be the first of the sports world to make its return to live programming on April 18th with a card hosting a fight that most have been waiting almost five years to see. And if you are a fan of MMA, you know that fight was between current UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.
But as the lockdown in Russia kept Nurmagomedov restricted from traveling to the US, White quickly replaced him with top contender, Justin Gaethje. Shortly after that, White made the announcement that he had a venue for the event and that he was days away from securing a private island to host future events until restrictions were lifted. On Wednesday, the UFC announced that Rose Namajunas who was slated to fight Jessica Andrade in the co-main event had to pull out. It was later reported that she was dealing with deaths in the family due to the coronavirus.
At that point, it seemed like the card was hanging by a thread so when the news broke yesterday that it would be off, many following the story saw that coming. “ESPN has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249,” the network said in a statement. “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.”
As the world continues to keep safe from COVID-19 by following the social distancing guidelines, when sports will return to their regular schedule seems very low on the list of what’s really important these days. But when the UFC does make its way back to arenas and homes, White says he will make sure his fighters are taken care of and safe and also hasn’t forgot those that were supposed to fight on the 18th. “I’m going to take care of as many people as I possibly can and do whatever it takes to make these guys feel comfortable,” said White. And whether or not we’ll ever see a card on that private island that we heard so much about this week, White was pretty clear on that as well. “The infrastructure is built. It’s going to happen and it will be on ESPN.”
Photo by Nicholas Cunningham