Show goes on for UFC as White criticises ‘panicking’ sports bodies

Bruno Silva battles David Dvorak in their flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event in Brasilia (by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has pledged it will continue to stage events amid the coronavirus, with president Dana White claiming sports organisations are “panicking” by enacting rafts of postponements and cancellations.

The mixed martial arts promotion has committed to hosting its events behind closed doors, with the latest, UFC Fight Night 170, taking place in Brasilia on Saturday. The event in the Brazilian capital took place with a full fight card of 12 bouts, but only the fighters, their camps, the television production crew and other essential personnel present inside Nilson Nelson Gymnasium.

On Friday, the UFC announced that Fight Night: Ngannou v Rozenstruik, originally scheduled for March 28, at Nationwide Arena, in Columbus, Ohio, would be relocated following the US state’s ban on large gatherings of 100 or more.  In addition, UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Harris, originally scheduled for April 11 at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon, will be relocated following Oregon’s ban on large public gatherings of 250 or more.

The UFC initially said these events would take place at its Apex arena in Las Vegas on the same dates, but the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s subsequent decision to suspend any combat sports competition in the state until March 25 will mean new sites will need to be found. Fight Night 171 was also due to take place at The O2 in London on March 21, but will be relocated, likely back to the US, due to the American government’s new restrictions on travel to the UK.

Speaking to the UFC’s broadcast rights-holder, ESPN, White, a longtime friend and business associate of President Donald Trump, said: “I talked to the president and the vice-president of the United States about this. They’re taking this very seriously. They’re saying, ‘Be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking.’

“Everybody is panicking, and instead of panicking, we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how we can keep the sport safe and how we can continue to put on events.”

He continued: “We’re not stopping. We will keep finding a way to put on the fights. I’m in the fight business. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and this stuff happens to me every weekend – obviously not at this level.”

Fight Night 170 was initially scheduled to be broadcast in the US on the ESPN+ OTT subscription service only to be bumped up to the main ESPN network to fill nearly six hours of airtime. Concerning the UFC’s ongoing strategy to find host venues for events, White added: “Unless there’s a total shutdown of the country where people can’t leave their houses and things like that, these fights will happen.

“We will find venues and we will figure this out. The only thing that’s going to stop us is a complete government shutdown where people are confined to their homes.”