Dana White: UFC 249 off after ESPN pulls plug

The UFC had already postponed events scheduled for March 21 and 28 and April 11 due to the pandemic.

MMA: UFC 246-McGregor vs Cerrone (photo credit: REUTERS)
MMA: UFC 246-McGregor vs Cerrone
(photo credit: REUTERS)

UFC 249 will not be held as scheduled on April 18, president Dana White announced Thursday, after the event's broadcaster, ESPN, pulled the plug amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Today we got a call from the highest level you could go at Disney (ESPN's parent company) and the highest level of ESPN," White said in an interview with ESPN's Brett Okamoto. "ESPN has been very, very good to us, and the powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday. We're ready to go."

The event's location had not been announced, but White revealed it was set to be Tachi Palace Casino Resort, on a Native American reservation in Lemoore, Calif. He said the resort had been fully on board with the plans, adding he hopes to hold a fight there in the future as a thank you for the support.

The reservation land is not subject to the shelter-in-place order in effect in California, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued a statement Thursday saying, "Going ahead with this event is not the right move."

"I understand this event is scheduled to take place on tribal land and therefore is not subject to state law," the statement said, in part. "However, at best this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted. At worst, participants and support staff could carry the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread."

The event had already lost one of its co-main events when former women's strawweight champion Rose Namajunas (8-4-0) withdrew from her bout against Jessica Andrade (20-7-0) due to deaths in her family from the coronavirus.

The other co-main event was to pit Tony Ferguson (25-3-0) against Justin Gaethje (21-2-0) in a battle for the interim lightweight championship. Also on the card was a heavyweight bout between former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy (5-2-0) and Yorgan de Castro (6-0-0).

The UFC had already postponed events scheduled for March 21 and 28 and April 11 due to the pandemic, but White said earlier this week he had "secured an island" on which he planned to schedule a series of fights.

He said Thursday those plans remain on track.

"We will be the first sport back," White said. "'Fight Island' is real. It's a real thing, the infrastructure's being built right now, and that's really going to happen, and it will be on ESPN."

White also said that none of UFC's fighters or employees have reason to be concerned about paychecks or being laid off during the company's break from competitions.

"All of my fighters that are under contract with me, I want them to feel safe," White said. "Take time with your families and enjoy this time. Don't worry about the financial part of this -- you're going to get the fights in your contract. ...

"All my employees, nobody's getting laid off at the UFC. Everybody's good."