Until recently, the Absolute Fighting Championship remained one of the few sports organizations intending to continue holding competitions during the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, special attention was paid to the UFC 249 tournament, which was supposed to pass a duel for the lightweight title between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. But the epidemic led to the cancellation of the first main fight, and then the whole show.
April 10, Championship President White announced that UFC 249 was officially canceled, and subsequent scheduled shows were postponed indefinitely. In the current circumstances, one would think that the promotion decided not to take risks and wait out the hard time. But, as Dana said, the initiative did not come from him.
“Today we received a call from top-level Disney and ESPN executives. From the very beginning of our collaboration with ESPN, I said that it was incredible, amazing. The channel treated us very well, and its management asked us to give in and not to host this tournament next Saturday, ”White said.
In the USA, the tournament was supposed to be broadcast on ESPN, which became a promotion partner in 2018. According to official information, it was in the media holding that they proposed to postpone the upcoming competitions due to the situation with coronavirus.
“The promotion was fully prepared to host UFC 249, but ESPN asked to postpone the event and subsequent fights until further notice in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The UFC expects to restore the tournament calendar as soon as possible, ”the company said in a statement.
In recent weeks, the UFC 249 card has undergone major changes. He lost his main star in the person of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and with him the other Russian fighters - Magomed Ankalaev, Islam Makhachev and Umar Nurmagomedov, as a result of which he was forced to make serious rearrangements. As a result, stars such as Francis Ngannu and Jairzinho Rosenstrike were included in it, and Justin Gatgi was written out to replace the domestic lightweight champion.
At the same time, the venue of the show was not known for certain until the moment of its abolition. In the last month, information appeared that it will be held in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Florida, as well as on an unknown rented island. But lately, more and more rumors have circulated that it will be held at the Tachi Palace casino, which is on an Indian reservation in California.
White himself indirectly confirmed this information, noting that Tachi Palace was ready to receive the championship fighters. He spoke very highly of his leaders and assured that “when the world returns to normal”, the UFC will arrange one of its tournaments here.
Tachi Palace in California, on an Indian reservation, supported us all this time, remained adamant and was ready to host the tournament. And you know what? When everything in the world returns to normal, California, this show will be held at Tachi Palace, ”White said.
Nevertheless, there are suggestions that the California state did not give UFC 249. According to The New York Times, the initiative to cancel the event came from Governor Gavin Newsom, worried about the prospect of organizing a mixed martial arts show in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It is noted that he personally called Disney, which owns 80% of the ESPN media holding, and asked to contribute to the cancellation of the fighting evening.
At the moment, there was no official statement from the California authorities, but earlier they had already expressed doubts about the advisability of organizing the event in a similar situation. In particular, Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke about this. According to her, at best, the UFC will demonstrate that the isolation regime can be easily violated, and at worst, the tournament participants will get the coronavirus themselves and infect their loved ones, which will contribute to the spread of infection.
As for White, he admitted that the attempt to organize the show took him a lot of energy, and confirmed the information about renting the island for promotion.
“Starting on the first day, it was a battle. As soon as the pandemic began, we fought nonstop days and nights to hold the tournament on April 18 ... We will be the first sport to return. "Fight Island" is real ... At the moment, the construction of infrastructure. It really will happen and will be shown on ESPN, ”White assured.
However, he also turned to his athletes. White promised that all contractual obligations to them would be fulfilled, and urged them to stay home and devote time to their family. As for the participants of UFC 249, he said that he would act “in good faith” with them.
“Do not worry about the financial issue. You will hold the fights prescribed in the agreement. And I will act in good faith with those people who were ready to speak on April 18, ”concluded the head of the UFC.
It is worth noting that the decision to cancel the show took many athletes by surprise. So, the participant in the fight for the temporary lightweight title Tony Ferguson found out about this during an interview.
“Wow. Well then. I'm going to train anyway. I am sure that there is a good reason for this. Let's be realistic, ”Ferguson quotes MMAJunkie.
Other athletes reacted differently to the cancellation of upcoming tournaments under the auspices of the UFC. Ngannu admitted that he was not upset because of what had happened, and also praised White and promoted him for “selflessness and determination.” At the same time, Chris Weidman and Belyal Muhammad took this information not so positively, noting that they were preparing hard and were disappointed.
Nurmagomedov has not yet commented on the fact that the tournament was canceled, posting only a quote from the Koran on social networks.
According to ex-Bellator champion Alexander Shlemenko, the development of the situation was expected for him. According to him, conducting a show in such conditions was extremely difficult.
“The tournament was built not only from the battle of Ferguson and Gatzhi, other fighters, too, maybe did not want to fight in this situation. The organizers tried, no doubt, did everything possible to hold this tournament. Did the UFC know that nothing would happen, but was it PR anyway? It's hard for me to say something here. I only know that, like any other organization, it incurs big losses, ”Sport24 quotes Shlemenko.