As the much of the United States and the world shelters in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the UFC’s schedule resumes starting with UFC 249.
In a Monday interview with TMZ, which followed the announcement of UFC 249’s new headliner and the final 12-fight card for the April 18 pay-per-view event, White kept the location of the event under wraps, as he has since questions of its viability swirled in the media. But he said the venue is set, and he’s “setting up shop here” for two months.
“We’re gonna be pumping out fights every week,” White said.
White said the UFC’s temporary home will host U.S.-based fighters who aren’t barred from traveling domestically, unlike several international fighters who were shut out of the April 18 event because they were unable to fly stateside.
For those fighters, White said, they’ll be squaring off in a venue that’s closer to the stuff of action movies than the actual plan of a multi-billion dollar fight promotion.
“I’m also a day or two away from securing a private island,” White said. “I have a private island that I’ve secured. We’re getting the infrastructure put in now, so I’m gonna start doing the international fights too with international fighters. Because I won’t be able to get international fighters, all of them into the US, so I have a private island and I’m gonna start flying them all into the private island and doing international fights from there. ... We have all our own planes and everything.”
One international fighter White isn’t taking issue with is UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, the highest profile casualty of the pandemic shutdown. Nurmagomedov said he was unable to travel from his native Russia to make a fight with Tony Ferguson after getting shut out of Abu Dhabi, which he said the promotion originally targeted as UFC 249’s location.
Nurmagomedov defended himself against critics who felt he should brave the global pandemic for the fight. And unlike several occasions where pay-per-view headliners were scratched at the last minute, White went to bat for his champion.
“Khabib was caught in the middle of this thing as the world continued to change, day by day, and I was trying to book venues,” White said. “It’s not Khaib’s fault – it’s not anybody’s fault. This is something you could never prepare for, plan for, or even dream that any of this is possible.”
Nurmagomedov hasn’t been the only target of critics. Multiple media outlets have called the UFC’s rush to return to business a foolhardy and dangerous exercise, citing medical experts who’ve urged the public to shelter in place to avoid the spread of the highly contagious virus.
White has alternately defended his promotion’s safety record and attacked his critics. But for the first time since addressing the coronavirus threat, he appeared to indicate the promotion would rigorously test everyone involved in the event, which doesn’t include spectators.
Exactly what kind of testing will be employed remains unclear at the moment. As the coronavirus has spread, the U.S. has lagged behind other first-world countries in the availability and accuracy of testing. But the promoter declared everyone at the event would be protected.
“Everybody is going to be pre-tested and tested and tested,” White said. “We’re going to make sure that 100 percent healthy athletes, healthy athletic commission people, healthy judges, referees, my production people, that everybody there is healthy. We’re going to make sure that everybody is safe before, during and after the fights.”
Safety concerns appeared to be at the center of Rogan’s stance on commentating at UFC 249 when he said “it’s not gonna be me.” But White said that wasn’t what the popular broadcast personality really meant.
“They heard him writing on a podcast, so they start writing stories off the podcast that are full of sh*t,” he said. “Rogan will be there.”
As of Monday night, the promotion is well underway with rebooking fighters who were left off the originally scheduled UFC 249 card or were scheduled for future events. Several MMA managers and fighters MMA Fighting spoke to still did not have an idea of where they are fighting. But they didn’t plan to miss out.