UFC 249 was officially canceled on Thursday afternoon, finally ending UFC president Dana White’s quest to host the MMA pay-per-view showcase next weekend despite widespread public health concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
White told ESPN on Thursday that he got a call from the “highest level” at ESPN and Disney, its parent company. ESPN is the UFC’s broadcast partner.
“The powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday,” White said.
It’s not known who White spoke with at either ESPN or Disney.
Their move to shut White down, however, apparently came after a separate call with a political official.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom called Disney officials about the event, according to The New York Times, which reportedly prompted the move to cancel it.
Neither Disney nor Newsom’s office commented to The New York Times about the call.
“ESPN has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249,” ESPN said in a statement, via The New York Times. “Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons. ESPN expressed its concerns to the UFC, and they understood.”
Newsom wasn’t the only California politician calling for the event to be canceled.
Just before the event was called off, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released a statement asking for the event to be postponed.
“This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a propose no one can honestly claim is essential,” Feinstein said in a statement, in part. “I understand this event is scheduled to take place on tribal land and therefore is not subject to state law. However, at best this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted. At worst, participants and support staff could carry the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread.”
UFC 249 was initially scheduled to take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, though that was shutdown after the coronavirus outbreak took off in the United States. White tried relentlessly to find a new location for the event, and even suggested hosting it at a private island, before finally reaching a deal to hold it at a casino on tribal land in California — which would have allowed him to get around state regulations that prohibited both public gatherings and MMA events.
It’s not clear how big of an impact Newsom had on Disney officials and their decision to finally get White to call off the fight. It is clear, though, that Newsom wasn’t going to simply sit on the sidelines and watch White attempt to host a fight in his state while a global pandemic is still raging.
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