The Rickety Old Shack

The UFC's Response To The Coronavirus Continues To Be Absurd

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Since the UFC held its most recent event, the organisation has been forced to postpone their upcoming fight cards. The fact that the decision to postpone was made only after the UK declared a state of emergency, scuttling plans to proceed with UFC Fight Night 171 in London, and the state of New York following suit and revoking licencing for UFC 249. Were it up to UFC President Dana White, everything would be proceeding as normal.

At every turn, Dana White has attempted to forge ahead with plans to hold fights. Where other major sports leagues (such as the NBA, NCAA, NHL and MLB) have suspended season — when not outright cancelling them — the UFC stands alone in their refusal to yield to reality. Even the summer Olympics, scheduled to take place in Tokyo later this year, have been postponed[1] until 2021.

And yet, this week, Dana White continues to claim that UFC 249 will happen. He doesn't know exactly how or where, but it's going to supposedly be the most stacked fight card ever. Setting aside the reality that, as it stands, this is just bluster from a carnival barker — and prolific liar — who is refusing to provide specifics[2]. Should these lofty plans pan out, however, there are still a number of major concerns.

International travel is effectively shutdown right now, save for individuals attempting to return to their home countries. The UFC needs to locate some sort of venue for the fights to take place, and ensure it does not run afoul of local ordinance concernng gatherings of people. This means the UFC cannot simply hold their show on native land, should a state athletic commission refuse to licence the event. There is also the potential of the UFC exposing themselves to legal risk[3], should production staff contract COVID-19 at the event, in addition to the fighters. Here is the salient point from the linked article:

For the UFC, even if they explicitly follow the guidance of the athletic commission, it does not necessarily mean that they are 100% completely immune from liability. Instead, in the law, we would look to see what equates to "reasonable" conduct by those hosting or organizing events under the circumstances.
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Still, there is no way to truly know the answers to these questions in the absence of past legal precedent on point. The fact remains that sports and entertainment will return eventually and, when that happens, it's up to those in charge to provide a reasonably safe venue for all. What that means exactly is anyone's best guess since the coronavirus pandemic leaves us in truly uncharted territory.

Every other major sports organisation is taking the cautious approach; no one else wants to risk being involved in the first class action lawsuit filed over negligence causing mass infections. There is also the matter of COVID-19's rapidly increasing body count. This is not just a matter of making people ill, there is the reality that mass exposure to this new coronavirus is potentially lethal — and not just for elderly or otherwise compromised individuals. The level of risk the UFC is seemingly willing to take is breathtaking.

Even if the UFC manages to secure a venue, comply with all relevant government requirements on the size of gatherings, ship in a roster of fighters (typical cards feature 12-13 fights), and actually hold a show, there are signficant concerns remaining. What if a fighter is injured and requires immediate medical attention while the locale's healthcare system is still under the strain of COVID-19 infections? What if said injured fighter is exposed to the virus in the hospital? And, at a very distant last, what about the actual quality of the product?

Gyms are closed. Gatherings are restricted. Some states even have shelter-in-place laws in effect. Training for an MMA fight is pretty much impossible. So, even if everything else somehow worked out, we would be getting subpar performances from resource-deprived fighters who will mostly likely be fighting out of financial desperation than anything else. The only winners in this scenario are Dana White, UFC management, and their owners, Endeavor Group, who have already begun slashing costs and laying people off[4].

The whole situation reeks of desperation from a fight promoter struggling to keep a machine going. Personally, I suspect none of Dana White's immediate plans will be coming to fruitition, and the UFC will be on hold — like literally everything else — for the next few months, at least. Still, it looks terrible to see such a massive organisation downplaying the danger of a global pandemic and attempting to produce what will inevitably be a diminished product.

—by Derek

Published: March 26th, 2020.