UFC 249 Is Officially Cancelled
Despite the insistence of Dana White, that UFC 249 would still proceed as planned, the event has now been officially cancelled and all further UFC events have been placed on hold indefinitely. This ends weeks of the UFC President lamenting the criticisms of the MMA media as he worked to secure a venue for the planned pay-per-view event and making numerous modifications to the fight card as fighters became unavailable.
It seemed as though the UFC would press ahead with the event until it was announced on Thursday, April 9th, just before 6pm EST, that the event was cancelled. This came on the heels of an article in the New York Times (link) which discussed the promotion's plans to self-regulate the event at the Tachi Palace in California. Shortly before the cancellation was announced, Senator Dianne Feinstein's office issued a press release (link) requesting the event be postponed.
According to statements made by Dana White, he was asked to "stand down" by executives at Disney and ESPN. Given the previous weeks of effort White put into promoting and re-locating UFC 249, he must have been operating with the blessing of ESPN. One can only speculate, but it seems as though it took government intervention — spurred by mainstream media coverage — to get the UFC to yield here. And even then, Dana White remains adamant that he will continue to stage fights on an island. As cartoonish and absurd as Fight Island sounds, Dana White maintains this will happen and that it's about a month (link) away from being setup...
I've already written at length (link), twice (link), about how ridiculous and ill-advised it was for UFC 249 to proceed. While I never thought the event would happen, as the show date got closer and Dana White got more adamant and over-the-top — refusing to disclose any tangible details about the venue or testing protocols — I was getting a bit nervous that I was going to be wrong.
In the midst of all this, the Association Of Boxing Commissions (ABC) embarrassed themselves as well. Issuing a series of conflicting statements before finally stating (link) that they would allow the UFC to self-regulate in California — by holding the event on tribal land, so as to avoid oversight by the state athletic commission. Normally, the UFC only self-regulates when they stage shows in foreign locales without sanctioning bodies of their own. To do this in North America — nevermind that this is during a global pandemic when all but essential businesses are closed — is unprecedented.
Now that UFC 249 is officially cancelled, we can now deal with the reality that, once again, we will not be getting Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Tony Ferguson. This fight, scheduled for a fifth time, is something we may never get now. It is unlikely that the Coronavirus is going to abate any time soon, so the timeline for any return to normalcy is unknown. Some estimates suggest 18 months of limited social gatherings and limited movement; it's possible that many fighting careers will be ended by the pandemic. Hell, that goes beyond fighting — whole industries could potentially vanish, as a global economy is reshaped by this pandemic. I can't think of a more cursed pairing than Ferguson and Nurmagomedov, and I thought that last time (link) it got scrapped — a god damn plague is a bit much, though.
I remain skeptical that the UFC will be able to deliver this "fight island" concept. There are a lot of logistical issues to contend with, as well as health and safety protocols that get dicey once you're talking about private islands. There also remains the issue of COVID-19 testing: who is being tested, how are they being tested, and none of this even addresses the issue of asymptomatic carriers who test negative. The argument by Dana White has always been that they intend to take the more stringent precautions possible, the problem is that there are none that are sufficient to guarantee detection of and protection from the virus. This is without addressing the issue of wasting testing supplies and medical resources on such frivolous exploits as staging MMA fights at this time.
I don't think the UFC should be concerned with trying to stage fights right now. I think the organisation's efforts and resources would be better spent providing fighters with a stipend in lieu of their contracted fights and assisting them with the process of filing for unemployment insurance. MMA media sites have compiled some very helpful information link) regarding eligibility for COVID-19 relief that is available to independent contractors and self-employed individuals. Honestly, it is incredibly revealing — and lamentable in equal measure — that several MMA managers have seen fit to lash out at the media over UFC 249's cancellation rather than providing their clients with crucial information in such precarious times.
Blaming the MMA media for cancelling UFC 249 is incredibly misguided and barely worth discussing. That there is sort of contrarian opinion on the subject of cancelling MMA events in the midst of a global pandemic is, to be mild, fucking ridiculous. Now is not the time to be staging fights, transporting several dozen people from all over the continental United States to a confined location to fight. Even if you could promise no one had COVID-19 or contracted it, there remains the fact that MMA events require medical facilities that are available to handle injuries sustained in the fights. The Association Of Ringside Physicians already issued a statement (link) recommending the indefinite suspension of combat sports. Not only do we not want to see valuable medical resources used for such non-essential matters, the potential for a fighter to require serious medical attention and not receive it in a timely manner due to an overwhelmed healthcare system should also be considered.
Simply put: now is not the time for combat sports.
It is my hope that the pandemic is mitigated as quickly and effectively as possible. While it is true that things will never go back to the old definition of normal, we all need to do our part to help contain the spread of COVID-19 before we can even begin to survey the wreckage. I miss the fights too and, to an extent, understand the frustration of my fellow fight fans.
Published: April 12th, 2020.