Dana White was forced into the most painful submission of his career last Friday after being told to “stand down” from holding UFC 249, which was due to take place later today, by “the powers that be.” Just a fortnight ago, White claimed that the event would be held on a private island, making the UFC president’s subsequent climb-down spectacular, even by the sport’s standards.
It emerged this week that White had been advised by top executives from ESPN – the UFC’s pay-per-view broadcast partner – and Disney, its parent company, not to proceed with his controversial plans to hold UFC 249 regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, the UFC said: “While the organisation was fully prepared to proceed with UFC 249, ESPN has requested the postponement of the event and subsequent bouts until further notice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, UFC 249 was originally due to take place in New York, headlined by the long-awaited bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. The venue was ruled out, however, after Nurmagomedov was forced to withdraw due to travel restrictions imposed by the US government.
Fight Island was a sensational alternative, but is emblematic of the UFC’s disconnect from reality
In order to avoid state-wide restrictions placed on staging public events in California, White proposed that the event could be held at the Tachi Palace casino, which is located on tribal land where the restrictions do not apply. “Fight island”, which White suggested would host international fights that could not be held in the USA due to travel restrictions, was a sensational alternative, but is emblematic of the UFC’s disconnect from reality.
Of course, in extraordinary times, organisations around the world seek extraordinary solutions. That the Premier League reportedly considered staging the remainder of the season in China is testament to the notion that the world of sport has ultimately refused to give up on completing the 2020 calendar as initially planned.
However, the UFC’s dedication to the idea that it could realistically obtain permission to hold fights on a private island, transport an army of medical professionals, trainers and fighters to a remote island, and ensure the safety of all of those involved throughout proceedings is ludicrous and frankly immoral. The practicalities of holding an event on a private island under normal conditions are troublesome; amid a global it is extraordinary to think that such an event could take place.
It is wrong to encourage young professionals to leave their families
Firstly, it is essential that we acknowledge that everyone – at least to a varying degree – is scared at the moment; athletes are not an exception to that rule. In the midst of a global health crisis, people have finally given priority to the things that are most important to them: friends and family. Is it right to encourage young professionals to leave their families in order to compete on a remote island halfway around the world? I think not.
Without wishing to state the obvious, the physical dangers of competing in the UFC are especially problematic at this juncture. Is it right to hold an event that could potentially result in a number of serious injuries, diverting resources away from an ongoing pandemic? Again, I think not.
Finally, there is the question of realism, of which Dana White’s proposal failed to pass most spectacularly. Would it have been possible to ensure, with absolute certainty, that all of the participants involved in UFC 249 were clear of COVID-19 at the camp’s outset? Not a chance.
Life is far too short to be risked for the sake of Dana White’s UFC
White’s proposal of a jet-set, exotic, romantic reintroduction of live sport on the world’s stage was endearing to a point. Sport fans around the world – myself included – are crying out for something to do at the weekend, because the Belarusian football league isn’t quite cutting it.
Life – and I understand the seriousness of this statement amid the context of our times – is far too short to be risked for the sake of Dana White’s UFC. Take a rain check: stay home; save lives.