It may have taken longer than expected, but Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White has managed to bring the premier MMA organization back from COVID-19 closure with the expected staging of UFC 249 on May 9.
White, who has dedicated almost every second of every day over the past month to keep UFC on schedule during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, hit a major snag earlier this month when ESPN and Disney executives put a kibosh on his efforts. A few weeks later and UFC is back in the saddle with UFC 249 next month, which will be headlined by an interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje.
As one of the only major sports organizations operational for the time being UFC must make sure it hosts events safely and effectively for all athletes and staff involved. White agrees that things won’t be easy moving forward as the promotion continues to go against the grain, but it’s something the UFC president believes should happen.
“At some point, we have to figure out, ‘How do we get things back to normal,’ but do it in a really safe way,” White told Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole. “The only way to find out is to get out there and start doing it. We’re going to spend a lot of money. It’s not going to be cheap. It’s going to be expensive. You’re worried about the health and safety of everybody: The health and safety of the fighters, the commission, the referees, my staff that’s going to be there. It’s not cheap. It’s expensive. It’s hard, but somebody’s got to take the first step and get out there.”
In addition to staging UFC 249 next month, White and company are currently constructing “Fight Island” as a means of hosting events at a remote location. The plan includes an Octagon on the beach, hotels for fighters to stay at, and a safe environment for all athletes to train and compete.
As UFC gets back to business during the COVID-19 pandemic things simply aren’t going to be the same. White understands the severity of the situation and is already planning for an unpredictable future.
“Obviously, the world is going to be different and I’ve been thinking far ahead into the future,” he said. “I don’t expect to have a gate for a very long time. I’ve already thrown that out the window. You have to look at all the different things. People think that I don’t take this seriously because I want to come back so fast and all this other stuff.
“It’s not that I don’t take it seriously. I take it very seriously. I don’t plan on having a gate for a very long time. … I’m already thinking way ahead of these types of things. All I need to worry about is making sure everybody is safe and I can put on these events. I don’t need a crowd.”
In addition to UFC 249 on May 9, the promotion will also be hosting events on May 13 and May 16. All three events will take place inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.