Leave it to Chael Sonnen to be one of the few combat sports promoters in the world still moving ahead with event plans in the midst of the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The former UFC title challenger and current ESPN talking head is also the man in charge of the Submission Underground competitive grappling events, the twelfth of which takes place this Sunday, March 29th in Portland, OR. The event is one of the few physical sporting competitions taking place in the US this week, as restrictions on gatherings and recommendations of social distancing remain in place.
In a recent interview with MMA Fighting, Sonnen spoke about the difficulty of putting on an event under these conditions. And why, despite feeling that fan and media concerns about holding these kinds of competitions right now are valid, he’s still moving ahead with his plans.
“I think it’s very fair,” Sonnen responded when asked about criticisms over holding events that both he and Dana White have received. “I mean, we’ve gone out of our way, we’ve brought in medical personnel, we’ve brought in experts. We will have everybody quarantined, we will follow every single rule that there is, no matter how many times that rule changes between now and then. I think it’s very fair that people are concerned. I think they should respect what’s going on.
“I personally don’t prescribe to ‘everything stops in its tracks,’ and it does appear that those are your only two choices right now, right? You’ve got a green light and you got a red light. Look, there’s ways to do things that are safe. There’s ways to do things where you’re listening to the experts and you’re in full compliance. If you can pull that off and move forward? I mean, people need to make a living. People need to have a job, have something to do, have their goals, and move forward. I’m not going to stop them, but I’m not going to overly look away, man. We’re dealing with something serious.”
When asked more particularly about Dana White’s recent tirades against media who have questioned his plans to hold UFC events in the near future – as well as the UFC’s recent, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to prevent any events from being cancelled at all – Sonnen gave a strong defense of the UFC president. Noting that while many people may be publicly lambasting him for his apparent lack of caution, he’s also getting a lot of private support and concern from fighters who depend on fight cards to continue making a living.
“You know, look, I—it seems that Dana can never win,” Sonnen explained. “I mean, nobody ever wants to give him any credit. All he’s trying to do is what he said he will do. He’s got everybody calling him quietly. People come out publicly and they want to challenge him, privately they want to call him and say, ‘Man, do I got a job? Do I have something to do? I’ve got a family, how do I plan my year?’ The only way he knows how to answer that question with a ‘yes’ is by doing business.
“That’s what he is, is a businessman. So he goes out and does what he’s supposed to do, that benefits all sorts of people that count on him—but they all do that private. Then publicly, they want to come out like they’re a bigger expert than he is. Man, nobody’s pretending to be an expert, they’re just pretending that they move life forward! What’s wrong with that message, how can that possibly be a bad message!”
Currently, White is adamant in his plan that UFC 249 will go forward on April 18th, headlined by a lightweight bout between Tony Ferguson and champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. That fight card had been scheduled to take place in Brooklyn, NY. However, state ordered restrictions on sporting events and gatherings have left the promotion scrambling for a new event space. Just where, or even if, the event will land still remains up in the air.