UFC 249 was canceled on Thursday after top executives at ESPN and its parent company, Disney, pushed UFC President Dana White to abandon his plan to continue holding pay-per-view events during the coronavirus pandemic.
White had vowed to go through with his plan to hold the UFC 249 showcase on April 18 the Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, California, despite mounting pushback from lawmakers and officials. However, the longtime UFC president backed off his plan at the behest of ESPN, the mixed martial arts organization’s main media partner.
"Today, we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level at ESPN ... and the powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event on Saturday," White told ESPN.
Aside from the cancellation of UFC 249, all of the organization’s upcoming events are suspended indefinitely. UFC 249 would have reached an interim lightweight title bout between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje in the main event.
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“ESPN has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249,” ESPN said in a statement. “Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons. ESPN expressed its concerns to the UFC and they understood.”
UFC was one of the few remaining pro sports organizations to attempt to play through the coronavirus pandemic, with most other leagues, including the NBA and NHL, opting to suspend games. Federal and state authorities have issued directives against the holding of mass gatherings, including sporting events, until further notice.
The California State Athletic Commission had canceled all combat sports events through March 31. In addition, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has enacted strict limits on mass gatherings as well as shelter-in-place orders for the coming weeks.
White sought to circumvent the restrictions by holding UFC 249 at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, which is located on tribal land. The resort is not subject to state orders.
UFC had already postponed three planned pay-per-view cards because of the pandemic.
The cancellation came hours after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, publicly questioned whether the event should move forward.
"This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a purpose no one can honestly claim is essential," Feinstein said in a statement. "I understand this event is scheduled to take place on tribal land and therefore is not subject to state law. However, at best this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted.”