Five days ago, UFC president Dana White said only a total shutdown of the United States would stop him from holding UFC events amid the coronavirus crisis.
Three days ago, White postponed the next month of UFC events, but insisted UFC 249 — featuring a much-anticipated lightweight match between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson — would still happen on April 18.
Now, White isn’t so sure about that event either.
Dana White on when UFC 249 will be held: ‘I don’t know’
In an interview Wednesday with TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter, White was asked about his confidence that UFC 249 will be held on its scheduled date. The UFC president didn’t have much to say:
So UFC 249, knowing what we know today, do you feel that this event is definitely going to happen on April 18. What percentage would give that it happens on that exact date?
“Listen, 10 days ago, I would have told you things for sure. I don’t know. I’m sort of rolling with the punches here and have been since the beginning. I don’t know. I can’t honestly answer that question for you.”
Such an answer likely won’t calm the nerves of fans hoping that a Nurmagomedov-Ferguson fight won’t be called off for an incredible fifth time.
UFC 249 was scheduled to be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but large gatherings have since been banned in New York and the CDC has advised against gatherings of more than 50 people until at least May.
White did pledge to hold all UFC events scheduled this year in 2020, so the executive’s plan, for now, is to simply postpone events and hold them in a compressed schedule once he gets some kind of green light. Such a signal would likely come from President Donald Trump, whom White said he has been in communication with.
Dana White has been combative over coronavirus
When leagues across the country were canceling and suspending events, White was insisting he could hold events even if they had to be moved to the UFC APEX arena in Las Vegas (the Nevada State Athletic Commission later ruled that plan out).
Despite trying to duck bans on large gatherings in Ohio and Oregon — where UFC events were scheduled to be held this month — White claimed the UFC had complied with all rules. White finally relented only when Trump announced guidelines against gatherings of more than 10 people.
We followed and complied all the rules. Every time they came out and said — I can’t remember what the first number was — then the second number was 50, so we figured that out. Once they got to 10 ... we’re good, but we can’t pull that one off.
When asked why he believed the UFC could avoid the risks of coronavirus infections, White cited the UFC’s medical staff:
“Health and safety is always an issue with us. All of these different businesses don’t deal with this type of stuff. We deal with it every day. We have the best and the brightest. We have these doctors who work with the athletes every day and we have doctors who work with out staff too. So, health and safety isn’t something new to us. It’s something we live with every day and it’s something we think about and are focused on every day.”
Of course, it’s not like the NBA, MLB and NHL — which have all suspended their seasons at enormous cost — don’t have doctors either. The UFC’s day-to-day medical issues are also quite different than the ones encountered amid a global pandemic.
White would later go onto take such speculations of cancellations as a challenge to his leadership:
“Listen, if you're a fan, a media member, whatever you might be, you want to bet against me? You want to bet I can't pull stuff off? At some point, stop doubting me, I would imagine, but maybe not."
Khabib training in closed gym during coronavirus crisis
As White tries to figure out where and when the fight will take place, the UFC lightweight champion is working out behind closed doors.
ESPN reports that Nurmagomedov is working out at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose. The gym is currently closed 22 hours a day. The other two hours are for Nurmagomedov and a skeleton crew of sparring partners and coaches:
"Just Khabib," AKA head coach Javier Mendez told ESPN. "That's it. Nobody else is allowed. No one is coming. Just Khabib. ... We've gotta keep it safe for him."
Whenever the fight goes on, Nurmagomedov figures to be ready.
Dana White has jokes, at least
One idea White has (jokingly) presented: holding UFC 249 on the moon. Note the SpaceX “sponsorship.”
At this rate, we really might have to wait until viable space travel for Nurmagomedov to fight Ferguson.
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