Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White claims he has secured a private island for the mixed martial arts organization to continue to stage events amid the Covid-19 shutdown.
In the immediate term, White is continuing with plans to stage UFC 249 at an undisclosed location in the United States on April 18.
According to the New York Times, the pay-per-view event will be staged at Tachi Palace Casino Resort outside Lemoore in Central California. The plan to activate on tribal land represents a bold attempt by UFC to avoid various state and federal guidelines about public gatherings amid the health crisis.
UFC 249 is due be headlined by a title fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje and consist of 12 fights overall. There will not be a live audience.
There are plans for future events to be held at the private island, the location of which has also not been revealed. The logistics of flying competitors, referees and other staff members internationally appear extremely complicated, as do the health requirements amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ll tell you this, I’m this close to getting a deal done,” White told ESPN. “So, this place where this fight is going to be on April 18, I have locked up for two months, so I’m going to continue to pump fights out. I also secured an island. I’ve got an island. The infrastructure is being built right now. We’re going to do all of our international fights on this island.
“So, when we do this fight April 18, international and in the United States, we’re going to start cranking. The UFC will be back up and running, internationally and here in the States,” White said.
The UFC has postponed three events due to the health crisis but White is doggedly persistent for the MMA property to continue despite the shutdown of virtually every other sport.
“I’m ready to get back,” White told ESPN. “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.”
White was part of a recent conference call with US president Donald Trump to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on professional sports in North America.
The idea of staging sporting events on a private island is not new.
Australian former rugby league player Chris Johns is pushing an idea to move the country’s NRL teams to an island off the coast of Brisbane, in an effort to restart the season.
Johns’ plan would involve players, team staff, match officials and media being housed at Tangalooma Island Resort, on Moreton Island. They would be ferried to the mainland to play games at nearby stadiums – Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, Redcliffe Stadium and Gold Coast’s Cbus Super Stadium.
Johns has been discussing the plan on various media platforms in Australian and said he has forwarded it to NRL officials. Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons wrote the idea was “preposterous. But it just might work.”
UFC’s efforts also represent just the latest around the sports industry of leagues seeking to create controlled, single-site environments to resume competition. The National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and National Hockey League have all considered conceptually similar plans, though none of those properties are thought to be close on executing any particular plan.