After a very lengthy wait, the UFC has finally made some decisions on upcoming events as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.
Dana White confirmed on ESPN’s SportsCenter that this Saturday’s Fight Night card in Brasilia will proceed as planned, but without fans. It will also start two hours earlier than originally scheduled, so the prelims will begin at 3 PM ET/12 PM PT and the event will be simulcast on ESPN+ and ESPN television. ESPN’s schedule has certainly been cleared up following the suspension of the NBA and MLS regular seasons, as well as the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments.
As for the March 21st event in London, that card is slated to go on as scheduled. Lastly, the March 28th and April 11th shows in Columbus and Portland respectively have been moved to the UFC’s APEX facility in Las Vegas, with no fans in attendance.
The official UFC statement reads, in part:
Both events will proceed with only essential personnel in attendance and without spectators. UFC is working directly with Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Bob Bennett on implementing a process to screen the competing athletes for the coronavirus to ensure their health and safety.
We know many of our fans in Ohio and Oregon are disappointed, as are we. Ticket holders may seek a full refund at the point of purchase. We look forward to returning to Columbus and Portland at the earliest opportunity.
Oregon and Ohio governments have banned large gatherings in their respective states, effective immediately.
Interestingly enough, the United Kingdom has yet to enact similar measures and indeed they have not banned sporting events from proceeding. That may change given positive COVID-19 cases increased substantially just within the past day. The English Premier League intended to play this weekend’s fixtures, but that may change given Arsenal FC manager MIkel Arteta and Chelsea FC player Callum Hudson-Odoi have since tested positive for the coronavirus.
White also cited consulting with US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the UFC’s response to this outbreak.
”I talked to the president and the vice president about this, and they’re taking this very serious,” White said (via MMA Fighting). “They’re saying, ‘Be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking.’ Everybody is panicking, and instead of panicking, we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how to keep the sport safe and continue to put on events.”
The American government has been heavily criticized for its handling of the pandemic, particularly the lack of widely available testing in the United States compared to other developed countries around the world. On Thursday, President Trump announced a travel ban for all foreign nationals who have been in Europe’s 26-country Schengen Area over the past 14 days. The United Kingdom is not one of the countries under the ban.
White did not address the status of UFC 249: Khabib vs. Ferguson, which is scheduled for April 18th in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. New York State governor Andrew Cuomo forbade gatherings of more than 500 people (except for public transit, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, shopping areas, etc.), while NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio noted the possibility that Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden could be closed for months. Top Rank Boxing cancelled two shows slated for the MSG Hulu Theater over the next several days, “after close consultation with the New York State Athletic Commission.” Bob Arum cited a lack of available coronavirus testing for the boxers, and incidentally CABMMA in Brazil is not testing UFC athletes for the virus.
Whether the attempts to move events to the UFC APEX facility is a long-term fix remains to be seen, considering Nevada also just declared a state of emergency. What we do know is that the UFC does intend to cancel cards any time soon unless they’re absolutely forced to, even as sports organizations in the USA and around the world suspend operations.