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Texas regulator, mayors appear open to promoting UFC event

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Gallery Photo: UFC on FOX 6 photos

If the UFC wants to promote an event in Dallas or Houston, all it needs to do is apply.

That’s according to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which oversees the boxing commission that regulates MMA events in the Lone Star State.

“They have to find a venue, and they have to send us the paperwork, and then we go from there,” TDLR spokesperson Tela Mange told MMA Fighting.

UFC President Dana White painted a different picture this past Saturday when discussing his desire to take the octagon to Texas as early as March 27, the date of a heavyweight title rematch between champ Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou. AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Toyota Center in Houston were named as two possibilities.

According to the UFC exec, those possibilities were off the table despite a recent order from Texas Governor Greg Abbott to open up the state and remove coronavirus restrictions.

“He wants to open Texas, he wants all businesses to resume, but these mayors in these towns feel differently,” White told reporters following UFC 259. “So, it’s unfortunate. The governor is announcing that Texas is open. Texas isn’t open.

“As frustrating as it is, I’m ready to go. I will move March 27 to Texas today if one of these places would open, but they’re not doing it. But at the end of the day, oh well, we’ll all just stay here at the APEX.”

In an interview released Wednesday with BT Sport, White said of a recent conversation with city officials in Dallas that he “didn’t even get the sentence out, and they said no, which is crazy. Let’s just say a lot of people moved to Texas, and they’re going to screw up Texas now, too, like they did some other states.”

A spokesperson for Dallas mayor Eric Johnson’s office referred comment about potential event restrictions to the office of Arlington mayor Jeff Williams, whose spokesperson told MMA Fighting there were no restrictions she was aware of placed on UFC events in the city. AT&T Stadium is currently scheduled to host Monster Jam on March 27.

A request for comment to the Houston mayor Sylvester Turner’s office was forwarded to the Toyota Center’s communications staff, which said in a prepared statement, “We will continue to keep the city informed of our events that we will be hosting during this pandemic. At this time, we do not have anything to report on when it pertains to any upcoming MMA events at Toyota Center.”

Governor Abbott’s order took effect on Wednesday, increasing to 100 percent capacity limits on businesses and facilities and removing a statewide mask mandate. The order included sporting events and concerts.

Mange said the TDLR is currently evaluating its COVID-related protocols to determine the ones that will remain in place and added “testing-related protocols” are likely to remain in place “to ensure the safety of fighters, seconds, event staff and others.” She said venue owners may also impose their own COVID-19 mitigation strategies, “including distancing, occupancy and masking requirements.”

Face coverings will be not be required, but strongly encouraged by the regulator “in keeping with” the governor’s order and CDC recommendations, Mange said.

The TDLR was in contact with the UFC this past week about an event “at the end of March,” Mange said, but the promotion has yet to submit event paperwork.

Since the pandemic shutdown, the UFC has pivoted to holding events without fans in its own Las Vegas facility, UFC APEX, and on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. For UFC 257, a limited number of fans were allowed to watch the event after being screened and tested for the virus. In the process of restarting its live event schedule, the promotion developed a detailed testing protocol that helped regulators in Florida and Nevada sign off with local officials on the event’s safety. Mange indicated it shouldn’t work any different in Texas.

“If they mimic or are close to what we’re expecting, there shouldn’t be a problem,” she said.

White told BT Sport he spoke on Tuesday with Gov. Abbott, who is “super supportive” of holding an event and Houston mayor Sylvester Turner “has been great so far.”

“I’m hoping it all going to work out,” White said. “I want to go there as soon as possible.” He added he could confirm an event as soon as Wednesday.