UFC 249 cancelled after ESPN and Disney force Dana White into U-turn after phone calls ‘from highest level’

Jack de Menezes
UFC president Dana White has been forced to cancel UFC 249 after pressure from owner's Disney and ESPN: AP

UFC 249 has been cancelled after broadcaster’s ESPN and owner’s Disney intervened to overrule president Dana White’s defiant stand, calling off the event due to be staged next weekend due to the coronavirus outbreak.

White had unveiled plans to stage the event – which would have seen Tony Ferguson take on late replacement Justin Gaethje – as a new location, following the decision to prevent it from being staged at New York’s Barclay’s Center.

The UFC president was forced to then look for a third location, and eventually landed on hosting UFC 249 at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, located on Native American land some 200 miles north-west of Los Angeles.

But with widespread criticism of his actions and the UFC’s defiance to hold fights despite thousands dying across the United States from the Covid-19 outbreak, both ESPN and Disney stepped in to cancel the event due to the reputational damage that staging it would bring, and the risk to people’s safety if it had gone ahead.

“I was ready to go on Saturday, but Disney and ESPN asked me to step down,” White said. “The powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday.

The initial plans to press ahead with the event drew criticism from US Senator Dianne Feinstein, who issued a statement calling for the promotion to reconsider its plans due to the safety risks that staging such an event would pose.

“This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a purpose no one can honestly claim is essential,” Feinstein said. “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.”

Former UFC women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas has also withdrawn from the event on Thursday following the death of two members in her family who had contracted coronavirus.

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