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UFC to move next three events, Dana White vows show will go on despite coronavirus pandemic

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Dana White
Dana White
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Hours after the Nevada State Athletic Commission voted unanimously to revoke fight licenses and come up with a plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic, UFC President Dana White is vowing the show will go on.

White told ESPN the promotion will move its next three events – scheduled for March 21, March 28 and April 11 – from their current hosts to new locations to be determined.

The promotion was scheduled to hold a Fight Night event at the O2 Arena in London on March 21. But that plan was cast into doubt when reports indicated the British government would ban mass gatherings in a move reflective of governments around the world to limit the spread of the virus, which has claimed over 5,800 lives worldwide. The U.S. government also extended an existing travel ban to the U.K. and Ireland, prompting one fighter scheduled for the card to declare his cornermen’s return tickets had been canceled.

“Due to rapidly changing circumstances in the U.K, including recently implemented travel restrictions, UFC Fight Night: Woodley vs Edwards, originally scheduled for Saturday, March 21, at the O2 Arena in London, will be relocated,” the UFC wrote in a prepared statement. “The organization is looking at the available options, including in the United States. Additional details will be announced in coming days. O2 ticket holders may seek a full refund at the point of purchase. UFC looks forward to returning to London at the earliest opportunity.”

Events scheduled for March 28 and April 11, originally set to take place in Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Ore., respectively, were moved this week to the UFC’s APEX facility in Las Vegas. White said the promotion was working with the NSAC and other health officials to ensure the health and safety of athletes and staff for the events, which would be closed to the public. But on Saturday, the commission held an emergency meeting that effectively banned MMA events until March 25, three days before the first event, and left a plan to deal with the virus moving forward to the commission’s executive director, Bob Bennett.

White told ESPN, “The fights can’t happen here in Vegas, so we’re working to find new locations. We’ll keep finding a way to put on the fights. I’m in the fight business – I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and this stuff happens to me every weekend, so I’m used to this stuff. Not at this level, obviously, but this is what we do. We always make sure the fights happen, and they’re going to continue to happen.”

The sudden shifts marked a chaotic week for the promotion amid widespread cancelations of major sporting events and league play. White vowed to push on despite other leagues like the NBA and NHL pausing regular season games. But as time went on, government officials proved to be just as much of a challenge to overcome, with a Brazilian governor banning large gatherings just days before UFC Brasilia. The governor later modified his decree to allow the UFC to hold the event in an empty arena.

Officials with CABMMA, the Brazilian athletic commission that oversees UFC events in the country, told MMA Fighting that coronavirus testing was not in place for the event. In his first public statement since the virus was declared a pandemic, White indicated staff and fighters at the APEX center would be screened with infrared temperature guns.