U.F.C. 249 Canceled After Requests From California, Disney and ESPN

Written by on April 9, 2020

U.F.C. 249, a mixed-martial arts showcase scheduled for April 18 on Native American tribal land in California, was canceled on Thursday in response to apprehension about holding the occasion throughout the coronavirus pandemic. California state officers intervened by straight expressing their issues in regards to the occasion to Disney, the mum or dad firm of the U.F.C.’s broadcast companion, ESPN, in accordance with three folks with information of the conversations.

Dana White, the U.F.C. president, said in an interview on ESPN that he had acquired calls from “the best stage” of management at Disney and ESPN asking him to not maintain the occasion, which might have featured 12 fights.

ESPN holds the rights to televise U.F.C. fights and to promote its pay-per-view occasions, a profitable relationship that yields the overwhelming majority of the U.F.C.’s income. “The powers that be there requested me to face down and never do that occasion subsequent Saturday,” White mentioned.

That request got here after Gov. Gavin Newsom of California referred to as Disney officers, in accordance with one of many folks aware of the conversations. The folks spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to share the main points of the calls.

Disney declined to remark, and Newsom’s workplace didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

“ESPN has been in fixed contact with the U.F.C. concerning U.F.C. 249,” ESPN mentioned in a press release. “No person desires to see sports activities return greater than we do, however we didn’t really feel this was the proper time for quite a lot of causes. ESPN expressed its issues to the U.F.C. and so they understood.”

An hour earlier than White introduced the cancellation, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California had referred to as for the occasion to be postponed. In a press release, she mentioned that “at finest this occasion ties up medical sources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders may be flouted” and that “at worst, members and assist employees might carry the virus again to their residence communities and enhance its unfold.”

The cancellation got here after the cardboard, initially scheduled for Barclays Middle in Brooklyn, was moved as a result of it was forbidden by regulators who had been attempting to adjust to public well being steering to curtail massive gatherings.

The fights had been to be held at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, on tribal land in Central California about 40 miles south of Fresno. In staging the occasion on tribal land, the U.F.C. was trying to get round stay-at-home orders which have been issued in nearly every state, in addition to state athletic commissions which have refused to approve any fights throughout the pandemic.

California state regulators refused to authorize the occasion, placing the U.F.C. able to supply its personal referees, judges, medical employees and different companies to make the fights occur.

However due to an almost 70-year-old federal regulation, Public Legislation 280, California state and native officers have broad authority to intervene in prison and civil issues on tribal land, and prime officers made clear their discomfort with the occasion.

White mentioned Thursday that his efforts to maintain U.F.C. 249 intact had been “a battle since Day 1.” He had beforehand insisted that he was being cautious and will safely maintain the fights even amid a pandemic, however he faced a number of medical, legal and regulatory challenges.

Disney is predicated in Burbank, Calif. and has in depth financial ties to the state, by its theme parks, film and tv studios, and Pixar and Lucasfilm subsidiaries. ESPN doesn’t management U.F.C.’s combat schedule, however it has substantial affect given the robust monetary ties between the 2 organizations.

In 2018, ESPN agreed to pay the U.F.C. $1.5 billion over 5 years to point out 30 fights yearly on the community’s cable channels and on the ESPN+ streaming service. That settlement was deemed so successful that only one 12 months later it was extended by two years and ESPN additionally purchased the unique rights to promote and stream U.F.C.’s pay-per-view occasions.

Whereas the worth of the latter deal was not introduced, the U.F.C.’s pay-per-view occasions usually earn a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} yearly.

The headline combat for U.F.C. 249 was initially a light-weight title bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. However Nurmagomedov traveled from San Jose, Calif., the place he was coaching, to his residence within the Dagestan area of Russia as organizers had been nonetheless looking for a agency location for the combat. Then he withdrew when it turned clear he would have issues touring again to the US to compete.

Earlier on Thursday, Brian Butler, the supervisor of the strawweight fighter Rose Namajunas, mentioned she had withdrawn from her bout in U.F.C. 249 as a result of two of her members of the family had died. Their deaths, Butler mentioned, “had been associated to the coronavirus.”

Butler added on Instagram, “Her hopes are to return to the octagon as quickly as attainable.”

White mentioned U.F.C. 249 was a part of a broader plan to take care of an everyday schedule of fights — beginning with two months of occasions on the on line casino. He mentioned on Thursday that he nonetheless deliberate to carry occasions for fighters on a non-public island exterior the US.

“Battle island is actual — it’s an actual factor,” White mentioned. “The infrastructure is being constructed proper now.”

Brooks Barnes contributed reporting.

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