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Dana White: UFC could shuffle between Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi during COVID-19 pandemic

Dana White
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Dana White and the UFC may have to get used to the same scenery for a while.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still limiting mass gatherings in North America, it might be a while before the promotion broadens its travel schedule beyond the UFC APEX facility in Las Vegas and “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.

Previously, White has said his promotion’s plans are dependent on state-by-state regulations regarding COVID-19 precautionary measures, and that he’s not interested in traveling for the fighters to perform in front of sparser, socially-distant crowds. The reality of that limitation appears to be sinking in.

Since Abu Dhabi is now one of two potential UFC destinations, White was asked at a media scrum Friday if he’d consider making the city an alternate home base of sorts for the organization. He couldn’t speak on that possibility, but stated how important it is to have a place where fighters who can’t travel to the United States can compete.

“We’re going to be going back-and-forth to Abu Dhabi until the world comes back,” White said. “This is an international business, and most of our fighters are international. We have to put on so many international fights, or I’ll end up smoking all the U.S. talent like that and we wouldn’t be able to put on any events. We’re going to be going back-and-forth to Abu Dhabi I’m assuming for a very long time.”

Making sure the coronavirus doesn’t scratch any fighters from the upcoming “Fight Island” is imperative, White said, because finding late-notice replacements in Abu Dhabi will apparently not be an option.

“We’re making sure that everybody that goes over to ‘Fight Island’ is negative,” he said. We’re gonna make sure everybody’s tested and tested and tested and tested.”

The UFC recently received approval from the Nevada Athletic Commission to run shows at the APEX under the condition that strict COVID-19 safety protocol is observed. So far, the there have been two incidents of fights at the APEX being affected by COVID-19. Ahead of a UFC 250, a cornerman of Ian Heinisch tested positive for COVID-19, leading to Heinish almost being replaced. His bout opposite Gerald Meerschaert was restored when a second test came in negative for the cornerman.

Matt Frevola was not so lucky. His teammate Billy Quarantillo tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, and though Frevola himself did not produce a positive test, he was removed from Saturday’s card and replaced by Justin Jaynes.

Although White is proud of the work the commission and his team have done to minimize risk, he added that he wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC has to cease operations again at some point as the COVID-19 situation develops.

“All I do is sit around and strategize and try to plan and I’m planning for a second shutdown that will happen again,” White said. “I’m always thinking about the worst. What’s the worst thing that could happen? It’s like when you hear these guys talking about when they train, they like to put themselves in the worst positions they can possibly be in. That’s how I look at this business too. What’s the worst position you could possibly be in? And my number one goal is I don’t want to lay off any of my employees and I don’t want fighters sitting inactive and not being able to compete.

“When you’re a professional athlete, you have a very small window of opportunity, a very limited amount of time. We get into all this money sh*t and all this stuff that’s going on right now. Everybody acts like this is a f**king career. This is not a career, this is an opportunity. Anything can happen at any given moment. Your knee can blow out, your back, your this, your that. COVID-19. Who the hell knows what is coming down the pipeline. So you have to take every opportunity that you can get.”

Regardless, White feels that the UFC is at the forefront of moving the sports world forward again. He’s not sure if the safety protocol model that the NSAC and UFC have been working with can apply to other sports, but he’s glad that it’s appeared to provide some peace of mind not just for himself, but for anyone in attendance at UFC shows.

“Going in, you knew we were gonna do it right,” White said. “Who thought we weren’t gonna do it right and we wouldn’t do everything we can? When you look at a lot of these other sports and you guys and other people try to compare us to the other sports, you can’t compare us to the other sports. By the time we’re done with ‘Fight Island’ we’ll be in 10 fights or more. These guys haven’t even put on a game yet.

“I know at first a lot of people were scared. Have you guys been scared coming to these things anymore? The athletes, employees, everybody. We take care of our people. I know there’s always the thing about, ‘Oh, we don’t make enough’ – that sh*t’s gonna go on forever. For however long I’m here and then long after I’m gone, there’s gonna be sh*t about nobody makes enough money. But nobody can ever say that we don’t take care of our people. Whether it’s you guys, the commission, our employees, the fighters, corners, whatever it is. We’re gonna make sure that everybody that comes to a UFC event is safe. We’ll spend the money and we’ll do what it takes to do it right.”

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