The UFC is not hitting pause on its spring event schedule, but it will make adjustments to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The promotion expects to promote its UFC Brasilia event on Saturday as a staff-only affair at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium, UFC President Dana White confirmed to ESPN on Thursday night. White added a March 21 event in London will for now go on as scheduled, while UFC on ESPN 8, scheduled for March 28, will take place at the APEX facility in Las Vegas, Nevada.
White did not detail the promotion’s plans beyond the UFC on ESPN 8, but a separate UFC press release issued at the same time as his appearance confirmed an earlier report that an event scheduled for April 11 in Portland, Ore., will also be moved to the APEX. Plans for UFC 249, set for April 18 in Brooklyn, N.Y., where state governor Andrew Cuomo recently declared a ban on events with more than 500 people, were also not addressed.
White, speaking via telephone, talked tough about health and safety measures undertaken to protect fighters, using a well-worn statement that the promotion has never had a death or serious injury in its 25-year history. The executive said the promotion has worked with health experts, state officials and doctors to develop a response to the virus, which includes infrared thermometers to screen fighters before they compete.
”I talked to the president and the vice president about this, and they’re taking this very serious,” White said. “They’re saying, ‘Be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking.’ Everybody is panicking, and instead of panicking, we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how to keep the sport safe and continue to put on events.”
The UFC has produced several smaller events at APEX including “Dana White’s Contender Series.” White has touted the venue as the future of the promotion’s event production plans.
“We’re working directly with the Nevada State Athletic Commission and executive director Bob Bennett,” he said. “We’re always looking out for the health and safety of our fans, our athletes, whatever it might be. Obviously, this thing is going on, we’re going to do the same thing: We’re going to make sure two healthy athletes are competing.”
White’s statement arrived one day after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, setting off a chain reaction of event delays and cancelations by major sporting leagues such as the NCAA, NBA and NHL; The NBA moved quickly to call off all upcoming games when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.
The promotion’s event plans were thrown into question when a federal governor in Brasilia banned large gatherings; he later amended his declaration to include events held behind closed doors without fans. In Ohio, governor Mike DeWine banned any gathering with more than 100 people in a single room, placing in jeopardy the March 28 event.
Previously, White declared “I don’t give a sh*t about the coronavirus” when asked about the promotion’s response to the growing health issue earlier this month at UFC 248. On Thursday, he said he’d briefed most UFC athletes and stressed the promotion “always” goes “overboard” on issues of health and safety.
On Thursday morning, MMA Fighting spoke to several fighters who said they were still waiting to hear whether their scheduled fights would take place. White did not give any details on the promotion’s protocol for dealing with athletes who’ve been infected other than on-site precautions to make sure they didn’t endanger those at the event site.
”They want to fight, they want to compete, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep them safe,” White said.