Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, says he will continue holding fights through the coronavirus pandemic — even if he has to do so on a private island where health officials can’t shut him down.
The UFC boss says he’s got a creative solution up his sleeve for UFC 249, which was originally slated to be held in New York City on April 18. NYC is in the grips of the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, so White says he’s going to find somewhere else to hold the event.
“I’m a day or two away from securing a private island,” White told TMZ in a video interview on Monday. “As of April 18, the UFC is back up and running.”
White refused to say where, exactly, he’ll hold the fight, saying only that it will be broadcast on ESPN. Tony Ferguson will now take on Justin Gaethje in the main event. Gaethje is replacing Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is stuck in Russia due to travel issues, White says.
“We’re getting the infrastructure put in now, so I’m going to start doing the international fights too with international fighters,” White said.
White also told ESPN that the fight would occur on an island, though he did not publicly disclose the location.
He says he already has the planes and all of the equipment necessary to run the fights, which will be held without any fans present.
“We’re going to make sure that everybody there is going to be safe before, during and after,” he said.
White added that the event will be the first of many in the same location over the next two months.
“We’re going to be pumping out fights every week,” he said.
The UFC tweeted its full fight card on Monday night, which included a mix of new matchups and hold-overs from the original plans for New York City.
Every professional sports league in North America, including the NBA, MLB and NHL, has shut down due to the threat of the coronavirus, which spreads easily among crowds. Leaders in Canada and the United States have also banned mass gatherings due to the virus.
The Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP) condemned White’s plans in a statement on Monday night.
“Any combat sport taking place during this global pandemic places the athletes, officials and anyone else involved in the event under unnecessary risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19,” the ARP said. “In addition, combat sports athletes require medical attention after a bout, and we do not wish to see any additional strain on an already overwhelmed medical system.”
Gaethje expressed his excitement to be joining the so-called “fight island” plans on Twitter.
“I’m terrified and I f—en love it,” Gaethje tweeted on Monday.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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