UFC 249 will not be held at a California tribal casino this month after broadcaster ESPN reportedly refused to air the event due to COVID-19 concerns.
Earlier this week, word spread that UFC 249 would be held at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort in central California. The event was originally scheduled for April 18 in New York City but was cancelled after the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to large public gatherings.
The California State Athletic Commission had banned all combat sports through the end of May but the Tachi casino’s operators are a federally recognized tribe and thus a sovereign nation able to make its own decisions on what transpires on its land.
That theory came to naught on Thursday as the UFC issued a terse statement saying that while it was “fully prepared” to go ahead with the event, “ESPN has requested the postponement of the event and subsequent bouts until further notice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The UFC said it looks forward to resuming its live events “as soon as possible.”
ESPN had featured large in the UFC’s plans, as UFC boss Dana White had repeatedly said this week that ESPN was the real location of the fight. On Thursday, White told the Associated Press that he was “ready to go on Saturday, but Disney and ESPN asked me to step down. I love and respect my partnership with them so I postponed the event.”
ESPN quoted White saying the UFC “got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level at ESPN” asking the organization to “stand down and not do this event” on April 18. ESPN issued a statement saying the network “didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons.”
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed unease with the UFC’s plans, saying it would tie up medical resources, send the wrong message regarding the state’s shelter-in-place orders and possibly result in further spread of the coronavirus.
White said the UFC would stage an event at the Tachi casino “when the world gets back to normal.’ White praised the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rosa Rancheria, who he said “had our back the whole time, has stood their ground, and was willing to do this fight.”
White also suggested that the UFC’s plans to stage international fights on a private island were proceeding. White claimed that “Fight Island infrastructure is being built and will be up and running ASAP.” White further vowed that the UFC would be the first major sports league to resume activity halted by the global pandemic.