After more than week’s worth of efforts to push through, company officials were made to cancel UFC 249. According to UFC president Dana White he was ordered by executives of Disney and ESPN to “stand down,” and things were ultimately “taken out of his control.”
While those orders officially came from Disney/ESPN, which has a lucrative multi-year content deal with the UFC, the mandate for UFC 249’s cancellation apparently came from California governor Gavin Newsom, who personally got in touch with Disney officials.
The New York Times reported the news late Thursday evening. Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment, but ESPN did release this statement to the Times.
“ESPN has been in constant contact with the U.F.C. regarding U.F.C. 249. Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons. ESPN expressed its concerns to the U.F.C. and they understood.”
Roughly an hour before White made the announcement, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) called for the postponement of the event in an official statement.
“I’m concerned by reports that Ultimate Fighting Championship plans to hold a pay-per-view event in California, in defiance of the state’s shelter-in-place order. This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a purpose no one can honestly claim is essential.
“I understand this event is scheduled to take place on tribal land and therefore is not subject to state law. However, at best this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted. At worst, participants and support staff could carry the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread.
“I call on Ultimate Fighting Championship and the Tachi-Yokut Tribe to reconsider this event and delay it until a later date. We have to be responsible and mindful of all local, state and federal public health guidelines. Going ahead with this event is not the right move.”
UFC 249 was supposed to take place at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, which stood atop a tribal land in Central California. It was the company’s attempt to skirt around the state’s stay-at-home orders, but a federal law, Public Law 280, does give state and local officials in California “broad authority to intervene in criminal and civil matters on tribal land, and top officials made clear their discomfort with the event.”
White remains determined to “be the first sport back” after the imposed lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic. He also promised to “make things right” with the fighters who were willing to be part of card, while confirming that “fight island” is a “real thing” and he intends to run shows on ESPN from this island when he gets the green-light to resume events.
For the time being, the entire UFC schedule is on hold indefinitely.