12:10 AM ET
Brett OkamotoESPN Staff Writer
- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
The UFC is seeking new venue options for its upcoming events after a series of developments regarding the coronavirus on Saturday.
UFC president Dana White told SportsCenter that the promotion intends to move next weekend’s UFC Fight Night event in London, which is to be headlined by a welterweight fight between Tyron Woodley and England’s Leon Edwards, to an undisclosed venue in the United States.
Earlier Saturday, President Donald Trump expanded restrictions on travel from Europe to include the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Additionally, the UFC’s plan to host all foreseeable events inside its own Apex facility in Las Vegas is no longer feasible, after the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Saturday suspended all combat sports events in the state. Another NSAC meeting has been scheduled for March 25, but the UFC is already in the process of moving planned cards on March 28 and April 11.
“Obviously, things are changing by the hour,” White said on ESPN. “This morning, they announced new travel restrictions for the U.K., so [the March 21 event] can’t continue in London. But the fight will go on. We’re working on finding a new venue, likely in the United States, and I have my matchmakers literally working right now to put together the undercard.
“As of now, fights can’t happen at the Apex here in Las Vegas. So, we’re working to find new locations, but the fights will go on; they will continue. We’re not stopping.”
The UFC’s next major pay-per-view event is UFC 249 on April 18 in Brooklyn, New York; the state has declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus and banned all large gatherings of more than 500 people.
UFC 249 is scheduled to feature a blockbuster lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. The UFC has booked this fight on five separate occasions over the past five years only to see it fall apart for various reasons.
On Saturday, White reassured his fan base that fight will go on as planned — somewhere.
“So, we had possibly a couple different venues for that fight, including Nevada,” White said. “So, now the whole Nevada thing went down, so we’re looking for another venue. I hope by [Sunday morning], I should have two venue options for that fight.
“That fight will happen. It will go on. The fans are all freaking out about that, do not worry. Khabib versus Tony will happen.”
Nurmagomedov took to Instagram on Friday and appeared to address the uncertainty over the fight, writing, “I don’t understand what is going on outside the gym. I am in the gym and I am working hard. What will happen next no one knows.”
The UFC is essentially the only professional sports organization attempting to hold major events amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA, NASCAR, PGA, Bellator MMA and various boxing promoters have all suspended events due to the coronavirus.
The UFC held an event in Brasilia, Brazil — the country’s capital — on Saturday. Fans were not allowed in the arena, but the event aired live on ESPN and ESPN+. Lightweight Charles Oliveira submitted Kevin Lee via guillotine in the third round.
The upcoming events on March 28 and April 11, which were supposed to relocate to Las Vegas, were originally set for Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Oregon, respectively. White was adamant those events, as well as every other event on the UFC’s schedule, would still go on as planned.
“Unless there’s a total shutdown of the country, where people can’t leave their houses and things like that, these fights will happen,” White said. “We’re gonna move on. These fights will happen. These guys will compete. We will find venues, and we will figure this thing out. I mean, the only thing that’s gonna stop us is a complete government shutdown, where everybody is confined to their homes.”