UFC President Dana White tried everything in his power to move ahead with UFC 249 on April 18 as planned, despite the global coronavirus pandemic. He was heavily criticized, many saying he was risking health in order to make a buck.
He eventually backed off of the April 18 date at the request of broadcast partner ESPN and its parent company, Disney. But a few days after canceling the April 18 date, White promised to move forward with UFC 249 on May 9, only now, he has the backing of ESPN and the state of Florida in doing so.
As the United States in particular, and the world in general, is grappling with restarting our economy, health and safety is still at the fore of nearly everyone’s mind. And yes, that includes Dana White.
Believe it or not, White insists that he isn’t blindly moving forward simply to make money. Of course he wants to get the UFC back into full operations. After all, that’s his job.
“I have three jobs. I have to take care of my employees. I need to take care of my fighters. I need to get the sport back on track for the fans. Those are the three things I’m concerned with every day in operating my business,” White said in a recent interview with Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports.
UFC has plans for safe operations of events and business
He’s also just as insistent that he wants to do so, and believes he can do so, in a safe manner. It’s not going to be easy nor cheap for businesses to figure out how to operate safely with COVID-19 still lurking. But White is prepared to do what it takes to show that it can be done.
“At some point, we have to figure out, ‘how do you get things back to normal,’ but do it in a really safe way. 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,” he told Iole.
“You’re worried about the health and safety of everybody: 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. We can’t just stay in our houses until next December.”
To that end, White and his team have already submitted a comprehensive plan to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak detailing how the UFC intends to handle operations of both the event side and the office side of its business. He believes that the UFC, having long had to make sure it dealt appropriately with health and safety to fend of critics of mixed martial arts, is in a unique position to manage such concerns in the face of the pandemic.
“We submitted a very comprehensive 30-page document to the governor of Nevada on how we’re going to run the sport, not just the sport, but our office once we get our employees back in here working again. I care very much about my fighters, I care very much about my staff, obviously my family. We’re going to do everything way up here (raises his hand above his head). We always do. Health and safety is an issue for us for the last 20 years,” White continued.
“There’s a lot of companies and a lot of businesses out there that now the health and safety of their employees is something new, it’s not new for us. It’s not only something we deal with on a weekly basis, we take great pride that we have such a great track record.”
Dana White sees a fighting future without crowds
In addition to health and safety, the UFC has long been preparing for events with little or no crowd in attendance. When the company built the Apex, its state-of-the-art production facility at its headquarters in Las Vegas, it was with the intent of being able to host any fight event it liked and have full control over production.
The Apex is uniquely suited for the UFC to operate under this current crisis, although current restrictions in Nevada don’t allow for operations at the facility.
“Where we’re doing it, none of that even matters anymore. I’m already thinking way ahead of these type 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. That’s why I built the Apex anyway. I believe we were heading to a place where we would be putting on fights without crowds anyway, this would be all about streaming,” he commented.
“People think that I don’t take this serious 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.”
Unless derailed again, UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje will take place on May 9 in an empty arena in Jacksonville, Fla. It will then be followed by additional events in the same arena, again sans fans, on May 13 and May 16, as White fully intends to get the UFC back on track for the remainder of the year.
UFC HEALTH AND SAFETY STATEMENT:
Health and safety have long been a priority for UFC and we have set the standards for our industry. In light of the current circumstances, we plan to implement further enhanced safety measures as we return to producing live events.
UFC events scheduled for May 9, May 13, and May 16 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida will be fully sanctioned by the Florida State Boxing Commission and will comply with all of the regulations governing professional MMA events. We have worked closely with our medical staff and state and local officials, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, and Florida State Boxing Commission Executive Director Patrick Cunningham, to ensure the appropriate health and safety protocols are in place.
Pursuant to a request from the Florida State Boxing Commission, these events will be closed to the public and will be produced with only essential personnel in attendance. All athletes and staff will be required to adhere to a number of precautionary measures, such as participating in advanced medical screenings and temperature checks and following social distancing guidelines.
On behalf of the fans, athletes, and employees, UFC thanks Governor Ron DeSantis, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Florida State Boxing Commission Executive Director Patrick Cunningham, and our media partners, including ESPN and ESPN+, for their support as we resume our events.
(Courtesy of Yahoo! Sports)