White’s plans for UFC 249 remain a closely-guarded secret, but Nurmagomedov’s announcement on Wednesday that he was not fighting puts even more question marks over the wisdom of staging the event.
Not only are there potential health implications at stake as White and the UFC look for a loophole or a rare location where they are free to hold a behind-closed-doors event. There are also now questions over why the UFC are persisting with the event now the fight everyone wanted to see, Khabib versus former interim champ Tony Ferguson, won’t be on the card.
White told Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole via text message that, “Everyone knew he’s not fighting,” yet he is still looking to go ahead with the event, and it seems he has plenty of options.
A host of fighters, including welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, BMF champ Jorge Masvidal, former welterweight champ Tyron Woodley and ex-interim champ Colby Covington have all gone public to state their willingness to step in and fight on April 18. But with little to no run-up for the promotion, and with a lack of time to prepare, any fight that goes ahead will likely feature fighters who aren’t competing at their peak.
The argument for holding the event is threefold. Firstly, it gives fighters the chance to do what they do for a living and earn a paycheck. Secondly, it gives the fans something they’re currently crying out for right now, some live sport to enjoy watching on TV. And thirdly, it’s about making a statement. While the world’s other sports have stopped, White and the UFC seemingly want to be the one brand that defies even the gravest of circumstances by gamely battling on and putting on a show.
The health and safety aspect of holding the event may, in isolation, be no more dangerous than the thousands of people queueing to buy groceries at packed supermarkets across the world. But that is considered an essential task. Hosting a mixed martial arts event – no matter how big, how star-studded and how eagerly-anticipated it may be – is not.
And if hosting an event raises the risk level by even a tiny percentage, then that’s an increased risk. During a time where people are being asked to stay in their homes, putting on a fight night seems like an unnecessary gamble.
The other debatable issue regarding the event is the need for it. For the sake of proving a point, is there really THAT much to gain for the UFC by hosting a show now? Is there a financial NEED for them to host a show? If not, then this seems more about ego than about anything else.
Why not build the excitement for when the coronavirus is over? Gather the big names, book the big fights and put them on the biggest card in UFC history, in a big arena – maybe even the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium – in front of a colossal crowd. Make it a celebration.
Putting on big fights under these circumstances at this point seems reckless, unnecessary and counter-productive. We all want to see live fights again, but why not wait until it can be done the right way?
Only Dana White can answer that question.