Despite only having revealed the full fight card a few days ago, Dana White has now confirmed that UFC 249 won’t take place after all on May 18th.
White confirmed reports that the event was set to take place at the Tachi Palace in California on tribal land, but that a direct phone call from ESPN and Disney bigwigs led to the show’s cancellation.
“This whole thing has been a battle since day one. We’ve been fighting non-stop all day and all night since this pandemic started to put in this event on April 18,” White told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. “And today we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney and the highest level of ESPN. The powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday.”
Despite his unrelenting determination to put the event on, White refused to criticise his business partners for forcing him to shut down the show, though he did suggest that they’d buckled under political pressure and that if it had been down to him it would have went ahead.
“Everybody said that I couldn’t do this. I could. I could go next Saturday. And if anything happened in California where I couldn’t, I have another place right now, with an athletic commission and the governor, and everybody is behind it. I can go April 18; let’s make that clear. But, I don’t crack to pressure. When people start coming after me – people have been coming after me for 20 years. I’m used to it, and I don’t care. I don’t care what people think. People don’t know what we do here, and they don’t even try to know. …
“You’re going to have people that have these opinions. Some are going to be on this side, some are going to be on that side. I don’t crack to that stuff. But it doesn’t mean that other people won’t crack to it. I don’t. I could still go Saturday. I could go do this event. I’m sure ESPN would let me do it on Fight Pass. But ESPN doesn’t want me to do it. They’re my partners, they’ve been nothing but amazing to me.”
White also went on to assure his fighters and staff that they would be taken care of during this period of uncertainty, but even he couldn’t say how long this lockdown on events will continue.
However, a prepared statement from the UFC suggests that UFC 249 won’t be the only casualty on the horizon, with other upcoming events also likely to be postponed.
“While the organization 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,” the statement read.
“UFC looks forward to resuming the full live events schedule as soon as possible.”
For the time being, all White could say for sure was that he intends the UFC to be the first major sport to get back to putting on events as soon as it’s possible to do so, and that includes not giving up on his plans to host UFC shows on a private island.
“Fight island is real,” White confirmed. “It’s a real thing … and that’s really going to happen.”
According to White the infrastructure for hosting events on the unnamed island is already underway and that it could be ready within a month.
It still remains to be seen whether the powers at be at ESPN and Disney would react any more favorably to this option than hosting it in the U.S. though.