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Opinion: UFC needs to be transparent about UFC 249 COVID-19 testing

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Dana White needs to show and not tell when it comes to UFC 249’s health and safety plan

UFC lightweight champion Nurmagomedov defends his title Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

Dana White is a liar. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact.

Sometimes White’s lies are acceptable. I would say that in his role as a promoter, his lies are simply part of his job. But other times, his lies and omissions can have serious repercussions. That’s why White and the UFC have to not only come up with a clear and safe plan for May 9 and beyond; it’s why that plan needs to be published and shared with everyone concerned — and yes that it includes the MMA media.

Since the UFC began dealing with the fallout from the global COVID-19 pandemic, White has stuck to the same message. That message has been that the UFC goes above and beyond when it comes to the health and safety of its fighters. That would be a fine response — but still suspect — under normal circumstances. The UFC is not dealing with normal circumstances heading into UFC 249, which the promotion has planned for May 9, reportedly in Jacksonville, Florida.

However, when White gets pushed on testing for coronavirus or COVID-19, he resorts to not answering the question.

“I’m ready to get back,” White told ESPN when asked about COVID-19 testing earlier this month. “You keep people in their houses for too long without entertainment, people are going to start losing their minds. And we need to start figuring out solutions. That’s what we’re doing. We’re going to keep everyone safe, and we’re going to pull this thing off.”

The UFC president gave Yahoo Sports a similar evasive answer in late March.

“Health and safety isn’t something that just popped up on our radar with the coronavirus, it’s something we deal with every week, for the last 20 years,” White said. “We will make sure that...we will take care of everybody just like we always do. I’m not giving the public and the media all kinds of information on what we do.”

Neither of these answers should inspire confidence that the UFC will provide a safe environment for the fighters and staff who will be in attendance for the May 9 event. Especially since the Florida Athletic Commission essentially took the same stance as White when asked about COVID-19 testing.

“The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Florida State Boxing Commission license and regulates professional boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts and amateur sanctioning organizations within the State of Florida. As standard practice, the participants are assessed for health and medical requirements prior to events. For more information on the Boxing Commission please visit our website,” the athletic commission told Bloody Elbow via email.

If we consider what the Florida athletic commission did as far as testing for the March 21, Combat Night 18 fight card, it does not inspire confidence heading into the UFC’s upcoming event. Combat Night promoter Mitchell Chamale told ESPN the fighters for the event he promoted would have their temperatures taken at weigh-ins and that anyone entering the building would also get a temperature check. Chamale also said all involved parties would be asked questions related to contact with anyone with coronavirus, coronavirus symptoms and if they had been in a COVID-19 hot zone.

As far as testing goes, that seems to be one step above doing nothing. A temperature check with an infrared thermometer can be inaccurate and there is nothing preventing someone from lying during questioning.

I understand UFC fighters and certain fans want to believe White when he says he has “this figured out.” Blindly believing the words of the UFC’s boisterous boss allows fighters to get back to earning a paycheck. It also gives fans the opportunity to watch fights for the first time since the March 14 event in Brasilia, Brazil, which went on without a crowd and without COVID-19 testing. However, just because White says he has things figured out is not a reason a reason to put any amount of trust in White’s words.

Let’s not forget, White also claimed that UFC London, Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson and UFC 249 would all take place. They did not.

White has said of UFC 249, “Yes, it can be done. It’s just very expensive. It’s very expensive and I’m willing to spend the money to do it.”

I want to believe White is speaking of the cost of safely putting on the May 9 event when he talks about expense, but it would be a mistake to assume as much. If White’s reference to the expense of the event is safety related then he needs to show and not tell, and as of now, White isn’t even telling. Instead, he has repeatedly bleated about how he won’t share any information with the media or the public because, “The less the media and the public know…you don’t need to know. It’s none of your business.”

No one should unquestioningly trust that White has this figured out. The only thing he has delivered is empty words. If the UFC wants its fighters, fans and the MMA media to feel good about the safety of everyone involved with May 9 event, the promotion needs to provide and publish an in-depth safety plan that can be accessed be everyone who has a question about the steps that will be taken at UFC 249. If White sticks to his declaration that “you don’t need to know” it will only engender mistrust, suspicion and fear. The only thing that will ease that anxiety is something the UFC has always been short on — transparency.