Although virtually all major sporting events have been canceled or postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak — including, most notably, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games which were to be held in Tokyo — the Ultimate Fighting Championship looked to be one of the lone holdouts. Despite the upcoming UFC Fight Nights being shelved, CEO Dana White stated that UFC 249: Khabib vs. Ferguson was still on for April 18 pending a venue change. However, lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (who was set to defend his title belt against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249) revealed that he was stuck in his home country of Dagestan due to travel restrictions, and would therefore not be able to fight.
White was undaunted, however, and quickly worked to find another fighter to replace Khabib for the main event at UFC 249. It was then announced that Ferguson’s new opponent would be Justin Gaethje, another of the UFC’s most highly rated lightweights. Some of the other fights on the UFC 249 cards were also postponed or had fighters replaced, but the highly anticipated rematch between former women’s strawweight champions Jessica Andrade and Rose Namujanas was still on schedule as the co-main event.
Despite successfully rounding up enough new combatants to repopulate the fight cards and managing to secure a new venue in Leemore, California, Dana White announced on April 9 that UFC 249 was officially canceled owing to a request from ESPN — the UFC’s primary network partner and sole broadcaster for pay-per-view events — as well as mounting pressure from California Governor Gavin Newsom to postpone the event. White conceded and stood down, but promised fans that he would do everything his power to get the UFC back up and running as soon as possible and that MMA would be the first sport to do so.
The CEO stated that UFC fighters would still get payouts for their contract fights and added that none of the promotion’s employees were being laid off. White also confirmed that the company was currently building the infrastructure for its own “fight island,” a private UFC-owned venue where future events would be held and which will air on ESPN — meaning that fans might be able to look forward to seeing some MMA action in the Octagon again soon.
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