Monday, September 25, 2023  |



UFC 249 Is OFF, ESPN and Disney Bosses Asked White “To Stand Down”

Fighters Network

THURSDAY EARLY EVENING UPDATE: It got near the runway, but ran out of gas before getting aloft.

UFC 249, as had been conceived in the mind ofUFC strongman Dana White, is no more. White said that he touched base with the big bosses at ESPN and Disney, and it was decided there’d be no event April 18. “The powers that be asked me to stand down, and not do this event next Saturday,” he said.

White said the people at Tachi were in and he will bring an event there. White, speaking to Brett Okamoto of ESPN, said that fighters should enjoy the time off.

People who were willing to fight April 18 will get taken care of, monetarily, and he said he will take care of as many people as he can.  His fighters will get the fights on their contract, he said, and no UFC employees are getting laid off. “We will be the first sport back,” he promised, “and fight island is real, it’s a real thing, the infrastructure is being built right now, it’s really gonna happen, and it will be on ESPN.”

Thursday afternoon update: Looks like Dana White and company are edging closer to getting to a place of solidity in trying to cement UFC 249 on April 18.

UFC got a go ahead, of sorts, from the California State Athletic Commission. They ceded oversight, because the site White has chosen is the Tachi, in Lemoore, CA., on the Santa Rosa Rancheria, on the reservation of the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rosa Rancheria.

The Tachi Yokuts tribe runs the facility, and one Ruben Barrios is tribal chairman of the property not too far south of the city of Fresno.

I contacted the Cali commission, and sought clarity, about what role they might or might have on an April 18 UFC card.

A spokesman furnished this statement:

First and foremost, the Commission’s priority is the health and safety of fighters and the public. With that in mind, the Commission cancelled all events through May 31 based on guidance issued by California Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health to help flatten the curve against the spread of COVID-19.

The Commission echoes the guidance of California Governor Gavin Newsom, the Department of Public Health, local health officials, and the recommendations of the Association of Ringside Physicians regarding the cancellation of events where people may be at risk of contracting COVID-19 and encourages the industry to do the same. The Commission will not participate in the UFC event on April 18, regardless of the event location.

Does that mean the runway is cleared and this thing will elevate effortlessly? We’d guess not. I was on Thursday afternoon speaking to Stephen Espinoza, who heads up sports at Showtime, and talked about moving forward with fight sports.

He’d not be inclined to rush in, and be in a rush to get back to work, he said.

“We as members of society owe it to each other to not make selfish choices and say ‘I’m running to the gym,’ or ‘I’ll run my boxing events come hell or high water,”’ Espinoza told me. We talked about UFC 249, and Espinoza wondered aloud how that would work to insure fighters’ safety while also being a “good citizen” as a corporation.

Testing for the Tachi show would ideally be done at several points, two or even three, and would it be a smart use of resources to use all those tests and the time spent by a lab or labs processing them, in the grand scheme of things? No, Espinoza said, there is a time and a place for business, but right now is the time to sit back, and be a bit more humble, and try to do what’s right with a bigger picture in mind.

There will be pressure on White to get it right. This isn’t easy in normal times, as UFC cards are traditionally beset with pull-outs, and switched main events, as injuries and such pop up close to the fight date.

Rose Namajunas, a former straw-weight champwas going to take part in UFC 249, but her manager said she was out:

Dana White is many things to many people. Over the years, he’s hardened, the fame and fortune have had some ill effects on the Boston-bred business titan.

His rant a couple weeks back, taking aim at MMA media sticks in my mind as a particularly nasty, brutish assault, and indicated to me that outside looking in, it seems like he’s lost the plot.

Now, “the plot” means different things to every being, but by that I mean, there is a global pandemic playing out, and every time you step away, and come back, and look, the global death toll from coronavirus has up-ticked.

OK, I’m not saying Dana White has to stay stuck in that dynamic and try to become something he isn’t, an empath. But he could try a little harder to put forth the notion that he’s more than mildly cognizant of the fact that he looks disconnected when he acts angry and frenzied while trying to put together an athletic contest.

Indeed, he may well show a softer side and own more of an empathy reservoir than he shows to media…But his obsession with getting back to business, being first back to market with his product, it’s not to his credit.

As the boxing promoter Bob Arum has stated, White fancies himself pals with President Trump, so that “business first” mentality makes more sense.

White poses in the Oval Office with Trump, August 2018. He made a fawning doc about Trump later in the year, but as of now, has removed it from their library, it looks like.

Trump’s push to re-open the gates of commerce, while America is in the middle of coping with a fairly ruthless viral strain, is a thorough indictment of his character, and being. White’s POV during this time can’t be held to the same standard, because he’s a fight promoter.

But still, one hopes we all come out of this with a changed outlook on the importance of “work,” and do better work on crafting economies that don’t reward monopolization and zero sum capitalism the likes of which Trump and White worship.

The at-times ruthlessness in doing business makes sense when you took in his rant three weeks ago.

“Go online and look at some of these people — and this isn’t a knock, this is just a fact: The weakest, wimpiest people on Earth cover the biggest, baddest sport on Earth,” White said during an Instagram video session. “What do you expect them to say? What do you think they’re gonna say?…Listen, the media can talk as much s— as they want. They don’t feed families. They don’t take care of f—ing people. They don’t have people that count on them. They don’t have people to support.”

Yes, his filter is often disconnected. But bluster is one thing; he can act like a jack-ass, but if he’s doing the right thing in treating the athletes, those taking the risks which enrich him, than his cretinous comments can be forgiven.

Friends, I’m of a changed mind regarding White’s Ahab-type obsession with getting UFC 249 off the runway.

You heard White said he’d booked a private island to hold fights at? Then, you learned that UFC 249 would take place on April 18, at Tachi Palace Casino Resort, a casino on Central California Tribal land south of Fresno.

The move is controversial, the “show must go on” mentality is being critiqued in many circles (though most fans seem to be A-OK with the construct.) Mostly, some wonder, is it safe? Will all the fighters be tested for coronavirus, and, hello, you can’t get much further away from “social distancing” than two people engaged in a mixed martial contest.

The saliva droplets, the mucus shed, if there’s even a minute viral load in one fighter, we’d think their foe would be a great candidate for infection. IS IT SAFE?

Well, is fighting “safe?”

There’s a degree of risk assumed by every person who chooses to enter an Octagon, or ring. And in our semi civil society, we try to craft rules and regulations and adhere to standards which minimize risk, and make the contests more “safe.” But, hello, anyone reading this knows that too regularly, especially within boxing, fighters succumb to combat, usually from brain trauma.

White’s empty arena UFC Brasilia ran March 14 in Brazil, after leaders in that nation demanded that large gatherings be nixed for a period of time. White spoke on his decision: “I talked to the president and the vice president of the United States today about this,” White told ESPN. They’re taking this very serious. “They’re saying, ‘Be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking.’ ”

Not panicking is one thing, but being judicious is a no brainer. But brains sometimes get shelved when people are pre-occupied with revenue, and getting ego boosts by being “first” and “fearless.” The fighters who took part in the Brazil event were not tested for coronavirus, it was reported.

“What we did was follow teams and athletes closely, alongside the UFC, for possible symptoms, and so far no one has presented any,” Brazilian Athletic MMA Commission COO Cristiano Sampaio told MMA Fighting. “There was no suspicion even at the weigh-ins, where fighters would be more weaken with the weight cut. The incubation period goes from five to 14 days, which could still result in a negative test.”

So, he was saying that they scanned people for symptoms, and if they didn’t have symptoms, they were good to go.

I haven’t seen any indication that anyone fighting on the Brazil card has been diagnosed with coronavirus. Randa Markos wasn’t feeling well, tried to get tested at a testing center, but couldn’t get screened. So the Iraq native self quarantined for 14 days, because Canada asks over-seas travelers to do so after returning to home turf,  and seems to be OK.

Fellow Canada resident John Makdessi holed up and said he was bummed, because he wanted to address a medical situation, but couldn’t.

Nikita Krylov took part, and said it was no big deal. He got some buzz for saying he thinks coronavirus “is transmitted through the TV. People who constantly think about it are at the biggest risk of being infected,” he said. People took that literally and wanted the guy to be examined for early CTE. It was a figure of speech, he was saying you get what you give, that people subconsciously attract the virus with their thoughts.

Brazil’s Gilbert Burns fought on the card, and won. A Florida resident, he told media he’d fight again, but this time, he supports testing for all the fighters.

So, it was no secret that people now showing symptoms could be carrying the virus, and transmit the virus. An April 1 story from the ABC News team contained this item: “The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control estimates that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can be picked up by a conventional test about one to two days before symptoms appear.”

Go back a full month from then. On March 1 on ABC’s “This Week,” US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told host George Stephanopoulos that asymptomatic spread is “not the major driver” of the spread of COVID-19. “You really need to just focus on the individuals that are symptomatic,” Azar said. “It [the containment strategy] really does depend on symptomatic presentation.”

Read that again…He said it was not “the major driver.” But it was a driver…And to what extent, no one knows.

You can read in between the lines on that matter–the US was severely slow out of the gates with availability of tests, and even now, we compare poorly with some other nations when looking at tests done per capita. The Trump administration has drawn criticism from people who wonder why more wasn’t done to insulate America from the virus. An April 6 AP story contained a jaw dropping reveal: “A review of federal purchasing contracts by The Associated Press shows federal agencies largely waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers.”

The US had fair warning about the virus, it cannot, it seems, be plausibly denied.

From an ABC report posted April 8: “As far back as late November, U.S. intelligence officials were warning that a contagion was sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population, according to four sources briefed on the secret reporting. Concerns about what is now known to be the novel coronavirus pandemic were detailed in a November intelligence report by the military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), according to two officials familiar with the document’s contents….”Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event,” one of the sources said of the NCMI’s report. “It was then briefed multiple times to” the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and the White House.”

Back to White, and UFC 249. The island is out, Tachi is in, it seems. California has been on lockdown for a month, with the Governor, Gavin Newsom, declaring on March 11 that gatherings of 250 people or more should not happen in the state. The California athletic commission has banned events through May. Their regulations contain wording that look like they’d impact White’s placement of a UFC event in CA.

White seems secure in the knowledge that the tribal sovereignty will hold up, and state officials wouldn’t seek to over-rule the wishes of the Santa Rosa Indian Community.

We’d hope that White is working with the most up to date information regarding the threat of the virus and transmission behaviors. To be sure, even people in high stations of leadership have not been. Last week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, and NY Mayor Bill DeBlasio, a Democrat, both admitted that they’d just learned that people not showing coronavirus symptoms could transmit the disease. DeBlasio was working off, it seems, a study coming out of Singapore, which the Center for Disease control cited April 1. A portion said, “Investigation of all 243 cases of COVID-19 reported in Singapore during January 23–March 16 identified seven clusters of cases in which presymptomatic transmission is the most likely explanation for the occurrence of secondary cases.” That study labeled the occurrence of pre-symptomatic transmission, from cases in China, as “preliminary evidence.” Evidence was present, and there was no shortage of news announcing that, Kemp and DeBlasio should both be ashamed of their ignorance.

Which brings us back to UFC 249, and how White could and should handle this event. “Health and safety is something we worry about all the time, not just during the coronavirus,” White said to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto on April 7. “Obviously, this has made our jobs a little tougher, but we’re going to do everything above and beyond to make sure everybody is safe, just like we always do. A lot of things will be different.”

One would think that everyone fighting and anyone at the event, really, would be tested for coronavirus, right? “Asked specifically whether all athletes will be tested for COVID-19, White declined to go into details, but he said the promotion has taken all necessary precautions,” the ESPN story continued.

“I’m ready to get back,” White said to Okamoto. “You keep people in their houses for too long without entertainment, people are going to start losing their minds. And we need to start figuring out solutions. That’s what we’re doing. We’re going to keep everyone safe, and we’re going to pull this thing off.”

And good news, Okamoto’s story indicates heavy testing will take place if the show does go on: “Fighters and corner people have been told they will be tested for COVID-19 on site, sources confirmed. Sources said the UFC is also arranging for COVID-19 tests to be sent to the homes of fighters and corner people in advance of the card. The UFC has not officially announced whether athletes and staff will be tested for COVID-19.”

We can argue about how much of this desire to plow forward is about wanting to help quarantined peoples’ mental health, and how much is about a need to keep the machine chugging along. But if White is serious about “going to keep everyone safe,” seems to me the only way to show he’s serious is by testing everyone who’ll fight at UFC 249, as he should have for the Brazil card. If he does that, then I think critics of his wishes can back off a notch. The bigger picture, which still needs attending to, is why our economy as a whole and our society are set in such a way that maybe close to three quarters of adults in America are living paycheck to paycheck, health and medical care is treated as a benefit and seen as a luxury to many, and our safety is so frayed that food lines have started forming and food banks are being overrun. Working to change the entrenched systems and mindsets in those areas, that will truly be a fight.


Follow Woods on Twitter if you like. Also, listen to the TALKBOX podcast; latest guests include Mark Kriegel, Larry Merchant and Lou DiBella.