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UFC targeting May 9 return, domestic location possible

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The UFC is wasting no time plotting its return to action.

The promotion is currently targeting May 9 for its next event, the same date originally reserved for UFC 250 in Brazil. Multiple sources confirmed the date to MMA Fighting, although nothing has been cemented with contracts or bout agreements just yet.

Two people with knowledge of the promotion’s plans said the event could take place in the U.S. One listed California, Texas and Florida as potential hosts.

The UFC has made no official statement regarding the date and location of its next show, and a request for comment was not immediately returned.

Initially, the UFC had planned to promote a number of cards at the casino on tribal land in Lemoore, Calif., over consecutive weeks, starting with UFC 249 on April 18. Those plans were scrapped after the UFC’s broadcast partners at ESPN asked White to “stand down” and postpone the upcoming card due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

While Tachi Palace sits on a Native American reservation outside the purview of state government, California Gov. Gavin Newsom reportedly called ESPN’s owners at Disney to express his concerns over a fight card moving ahead as scheduled in the state.

At the time, UFC president Dana White promised the organization would move forward with ambitious plans to hold events as soon as the promotion was given the green light. He said the promotion had already started building infrastructure on a private international island where fights could be held.

“We will be the first sport back,” White said. “‘Fight Island’ is real. It’s a real thing. The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen and it will be on ESPN.”

Another possible landing spot opened up this week after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order declaring “employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience” an “essential service” in the state. That included any athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including services supporting such production, but only if the location is closed to the general public.”

The order initially gained attention after World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was allowed to hold live shows in Florida starting this week.

On Tuesday, DeSantis spoke about the decision in his daily address regarding the COVID-19 outbreak when asked specifically about WWE and other sports returning to Florida.

“There’s no crowd or anything, so it’s a very small number of people,” DeSantis said. “We just kind of look at it on a case-by-base basis. We haven’t had a huge amount of requests, so I think a lot of this will just be, what do we look like in May with some of this. The one thing I do support is, I think that we do need to support content, especially sports and events. We’re not going to have crowds there. I get that. But like, if NASCAR can do a race and can televise it without having large crowds, I think that’s a good thing. I’d like to see [Tiger] Woods and [Phil] Mickelson do the golf, because that’s social distancing.

“I think people have been starved for content. We haven’t had a lot of new content since the beginning of March. Here we are in the middle of April, and if people are being told to stay closer to the house, it sure does help to have some fresh things to do. I think people are chomping at the bit. We’ve never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had such little new content, particularly in the sporting realm.”

According to a separate report from My News 13 in Orlando, sheriff’s deputies went to the WWE Performance Center where they advised the promotion “they were not in compliance with the executive order and advised them they would have to close down.” A few days later, DeSantis amended his executive order to include sports organizations and events like WWE, the report said.

It remains to be seen if the UFC will look at Florida as a viable option. The promotion was in advanced talks to hold UFC 249 in the state before shifting to California. Florida has hosted several cards in previous years. This past October, a UFC Fight Night card was held in Tampa, Fla. featuring Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson in the main event. The UFC has also held several shows in Orlando previously as well.

At this time, no fights have officially been booked. But it appears the UFC is moving in that direction as they seek to get back to business with plans to relaunch in May.