Sports Business : Under pressure from Walt Disney, Dana White call off UFC fights

UFC 267: Dana White announces Blachowicz vs Teixeira as main event with UFC set for Fight Island return
UFC 267: Dana White announces Blachowicz vs Teixeira as main event with UFC set for Fight Island return

The tall claims of Dana White to take the Ultimate Fight Championship to a private island have all gone for toss. UFC president White has revealed he was pressured by the most senior executives at both the Walt Disney Company and ESPN to call off UFC 249, which was scheduled for April 18.

“Today, we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level at ESPN…and the powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday,” White told ESPN in an interview. Amid intense scrutiny and significant controversy, White had continued with plans to proceed with the pay-per-view event on tribal land at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort near Fresno, California, despite the health concerns of staging the event amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.

This included a strongly-worded statement from California Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, calling on UFC to reconsider its plans for the event.

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“I’m concerned by reports that Ultimate Fighting Championship plans to hold a pay-per-view event in California, in defiance of the state’s shelter-in-place order. This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a purpose no one can honestly claim is essential,” Feinstein said in a statement.

“I understand this event is scheduled to take place on tribal land and therefore is not subject to state law. 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,” she said.

However, White ultimately backed down following conversations with senior executives of ESPN and the sports network’s parent company Disney. All UFC events have been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, White also revealed.

Meanwhile the UFC boss has declared that no UFC employees will be laid off as a result of the sports shutdown.

“I’m going to take care of as many people as I possibly can and do whatever it takes to make these guys all feel comfortable. All of my employees, nobody’s getting laid off at the UFC, everybody’s good, we will be the first sport back. Fight island is real, it’s a real thing, the infrastructure is being built right now and that’s really going to happen and it will be on ESPN.”

In a statement, UFC said no events would take place “until further notice”.