Dana White Says ‘Highest Level’ at Disney and ESPN Forced UFC to Cancel April 18 Fight

Despite COVID-19 disease, mixed martial arts organization was going to hold UFC 249 on an Indian Reservation

Last Updated: April 9, 2020 @ 4:08 PM

UFC chief Dana White said he was forced to scrap the planned UFC 249 event on April 18 after top Disney and ESPN brass told him to “stand down.”

“Today we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney and the highest level of ESPN,” White told ESPN reporter Brett Okamoto in a video on ESPN.com. “The powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday.” Despite the coronavirus pandemic continuing to spread across the globe, the mixed martial arts organization was planning to move forward and stage its next pay-per-view event at the Tachi Palace Resort and Casino in Santa Rosa, California.

“While the organization was fully prepared to proceed with UFC 249, ESPN has requested the postponement of the event and subsequent bouts until further notice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said in a statement. “UFC looks forward to resuming the full live events schedule as soon as possible.”

ESPN is one of the UFC’s largest rights holders and UFC matches make up a large portion of the live sports on ESPN+.

The resort is owned by the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rosa Rancheria. Since it operates on tribal grounds, it exists outside the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), and therefore is not subject to the state’s mandatory “shelter-at-home” order nor has to be certified by the CSAC.

The pandemic ravaging the globe has forced every other professional sports league to either suspend, cancel or postpone its events, including the start of the 2020 MLB season and the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics. White said that his other plan, which was to rent to a private island and hold fights there, is still going forward.

“We will be the first sport back,” he continued. “Fight Island is real. It’s a real thing. The infrastructure is being built right now.”

White added that he will still hold an event at Tachi Palace when the current restrictions are lifted. He also promised that no UFC employee would be laid off and that the fighters scheduled for UFC 249 would be financially compensated.

“All of my fighters that are under their contract with me, I want them to feel safe. Take time with your families and enjoy this time, don’t worry about the financial part of this,” he said. “I’m going to make things right with the people who were willing to step up and fight.”

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