Just a few days after cancelling the April 18 date for UFC 249, company president Dana White vowed to put the Octagon back in action on May 9. UFC commentator Jon Anik, for one, believes that an event on the May 9 date will come to fruition.
“I do think we’re going to have a show on May 9. I feel pretty convicted in that. I would say a 9 out of 10, if you will.”
– Jon Anik
Anik also believed that UFC 249 was going to happen on April 18 before it eventually got nixed at the behest of the higher ups at UFC broadcast partner ESPN and its parent company Disney. He now admits that he probably got ahead of himself in believing that date would happen, but feels much more confident in reports that UFC 249 will now take place on May 9 in Florida.
Though the location has yet to be confirmed, insiders are pointing to a location in Florida, now that the state’s governor has signed off on professional sports without a live audience being allowed to operate. WWE has already run professional wrestling shows behind closed doors in Florida, essentially paving the way for the UFC to eliminate the hurdle it faced in California.
The UFC has also operated one event without an audience. The promotion was in Brazil at the time that large groups were quickly being forced to scale down. UFC on ESPN+ 28 took place on March 14 in the empty 11,000-seat Ginásio Nilson Nelson in Brasilia. The event aired on the ESPN+ streaming app.
White had UFC 249 set to take place without an audience on a Native American reservation in California on April 18, which fell within the legal rights of the reservation, but speculation is that California Gov. Gavin Newsom put pressure on Disney and ESPN to force White’s hand, which they did.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is more of a mind to start slowly opening up areas of the economy in his state, which happens to include professional sports.
“I do think we’re going to have a show on May 9,” Anik told MMAJunkie recently. “I feel pretty convicted in that. I would say a 9 out of 10, if you will. I live in Florida, so those reports aren’t bothering me any. Big picture, I think it’s just about getting the staff and the fighters to wherever this location is. I feel like if any company can do it (the UFC can). I feel like all their ducks are in a row. May 9 can’t come soon enough so we can prove we can do a show safely and healthy and come out the other side.”
The UFC isn’t yet allowed to operate in its home state of Nevada, but once it is, that is where most of the company’s U.S. based shows are expected to take place for the near future. The UFC has its own state-of-the-art production facility called the Apex, which includes a small arena and everything necessary to televise fights. White is hoping that May 9 is the first of a string of weekly events, so that the UFC can begin putting the fighters that have missed out on several canceled or postponed events back to work.
Anik believes that the May 9 event can show the world that the UFC can safely operate during the current coronavirus crisis and get at least its people back to work.
“You get one in the can successfully, and maybe that sets the foundation for future events,” Anik said. “That’s what we’re all pointing toward on May 9. How exactly is it going to get done? I can’t tell you right now. But I would bet on the UFC to get it done in the safest way as humanly possible.”
While there are currently intense discussions about how best to approach opening up the United States economy, White has believed almost from the start that the UFC could operate safely amidst the pandemic. Anik appears to be of a similar mind, though he isn’t downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I have a lot of respect for the virus. I’ve heard from a lot of respiratory therapists privately and publicly, and I have a lot of respect for the medical community and the virus,” Anik continued. “But at some point us in the live event business, we’re going to have to rip off the Band-Aid and go back to work. Especially when the executives, Dana White being chief among them, are putting themselves in a position to try to get back.
“You can be sure we will be masked and gloved almost right up until showtime until we’re spitting commentary in the direction of the fighters or whatever we’re doing. We’ll be taking a lot of precautions obviously, and I’m sure the questions we have now will be answered leading up to May 9.”
The current UFC 249 line-up is expected to feature Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje battling for the interim UFC lightweight title in the main event and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo putting his belt on the line against former titleholder Dominick Cruz in the co-main event.
White had been hoping to feature a championship tripleheader on May 9, but dual-division champion Amanda Nunes recently stated that she was unwilling to defend her featherweight title against Felicia Spencer at this point of the crisis.