Irresponsible or opportunist? Arrogant or defiant? Call it what you want but ultimately the correct decision has been made – what’s to come is a bigger question.
Just as Liverpool reversed their furlough decision earlier this week, Dana White has done a swift u-turn – with help from his superiors – conceding that UFC 249 cannot take place as planned next weekend. Our thirst for sport, in any capacity, can wait.
The headline that first beamed on my phone yesterday read: Dana White finally taps out.
Regardless of your personal opinion on the man, you have to acknowledge Dana’s determination in such unprecedented times to try and fight on defiantly. However, it’s that same defiance that saw his master plans falter, at least in the short-term.
He and millions worldwide witnessed WrestleMania’s success over a two-night special last weekend. The potential for UFC to blossom at a time like this cannot be understated.
According to PWMania.com, WWE issued a statement confirming WM36 was the most ‘social event’ in company history.
“According to Nielsen Social, WrestleMania saw 13.8 million total social media interactions on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, +57% vs. last year’s WrestleMania, and most in WWE history.”
Now you can see where Dana is coming from: a prime-time Saturday night slot, with no other sport or events to compete against = more viewers, interest and $$$.
But there are key differences between the two: as much as it’s entertaining for fans, UFC is a sport. WWE is cheoreographed programming, pre-recorded and was on a closed set with minimal crew.
With live combat sports, UFC just doesn’t have that luxury. It’s why after Fight Night: Lee vs Oliveira event in Brazil on March 14, there hasn’t been any live events.
The writing was on the wall when Khabib Nurmagomedov said this on Instagram:
That was on April 1, since which his replacement was announced – Justin Gaethje – meaning the show was set to go on without its champion.
No star is bigger than the company but what sort of message was Dana’s defiance showing to those affected?
Fighters don’t get paid if they don’t compete, so it’s natural to expect the vast majority of them want to feature – not least after a gruelling fight camp.
Instead, this downtime should be used for Dana and others to consider a better financial package for fighters.
After all, they’re the main attraction.
But regardless of his proposed location switch, the risks were too severe to ignore.
On medical precautions taken for the fighters, White said this on March 31:
“We go overboard with everything all the time. In the 20-year history that I’ve been involved and before me, there’s never been a death or serious injury. That’s crazy. Cheerleading can’t say that.
We go completely overboard with health and safety even before the coronavirus. The health and safety part is nothing new to us. It’s now just trying to be able to manoeuvre as the world continues to freak out and lose their mind over this coronavirus stuff. All my fighters want to fight, staff want to work. Everybody who’s involved in what I’m doing is absolutely willing and able to do this.”
Things have accelerated rapidly in the days since then. In the US alone, there have been 278,777 new cases and 12,634 deaths between April 1-9.
Is this just blind naivety then?
“The thing is with my fighters, when they’re with me, they’re getting the best medical attention they could possibly get. Better if they were home alone by themselves or whatever their situation is.
I’ve reached out to everybody, not just my employees that work for me, but my fighters, too – if them or a loved one becomes ill and needs me, I’m here. I will do everything in my power to help and take care of them. That’s a given always. This fight will go on.”
Even for the biggest optimist, how can you ensure everyone’s safety in such unpredictable circumstances?
He meant well and his awareness of the risks involved will be lost amid this latest update, but cancelling UFC 249 was an inevitable outcome.
How, where and when things can resume to normal is the bigger question he needs to ask.