UFC 249 was officially cancelled overnight, after ESPN and parent company Disney intervened to thwart Dana White’s defiant plan to continue fighting amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Dana had passionately vowed to maintain a regular schedule of fights while the rest of the sports world was suspended, but in a text to the Associated Press, the 50-year-old confirmed a change of heart – the decision to cease competition effective immediately.
He said: “I was ready to go on Saturday, but Disney and ESPN asked me to step down. I love and respect my partnership with them, so I postponed the event.”
This latest announcement seemed inevitable, after strawweight Rose Namajunas withdrew yesterday after two deaths in her family were related to COVID-19. She was originally pencilled in to rematch Jessica Andrade, in the card’s co-main event.
White announced the cancellation shortly after US senator Dianne Feinstein issued a statement urging the mixed martial arts promotion to reconsider their plans.
UFC 249 was scheduled for April 18 on ESPN+ PPV and White planned to follow it with regular fight cards from Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino on tribal land in California’s Central Valley.
However during an interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, he revealed he “got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney and ESPN” asking him to cancel the shows.
Although the final call was his, the pair expressed views he simply couldn’t ignore.
The UFC moved to ESPN last year, with a reported $1.5bn (£1.2bn) deal.
Although the UFC will not have fights in the upcoming weeks as White earlier suggested, Dana remains persistent with his efforts to build an octagon and everything else necessary to telecast small fight shows on an unidentified private island.
White planned to use the so-called Fight Island in upcoming months for non-American fights who were unable to get into the US with current travel restrictions in place.
“Fight Island infrastucture is being built, will be up and running ASAP,” White told the AP.
His frustration with Disney’s decision was obvious, having previously been persistent in his determination to continue under the circumstances despite mixed public opinion.
He described the past month of preparation for UFC 249 as the most challenging part of his fight promotion career, which began as the UFC’s president back in 2001.
Nonetheless, he vowed to be “the first sport back” once the pandemic eases. On April 9, there were 33,536 new cases and 1,900 more deaths in the US alone.
White is set to repay loyalty with an upcoming show, when cleared to resume: “Tachi Palace had our back this whole time, stood their ground and was willing to do this fight. I’m going to bring them a big fight and I appreciate them standing with me in this thing.”
As for UFC employees, he also confirmed there will be no redundancies in the company.