Coronavirus: Will UFC Cancel Events Including UFC 249?

UFC Octagon

Getty General view of the UFC 238 Octagon at United Center on June 8, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus and major sporting events and leagues being canceled or suspended, is it inevitable that the UFC will follow suit?

In a tweet from The Athletic’s Ben Fowlkes, he said, “Source today told me UFC was looking to NBA and NHL as potential bellwethers on how to respond to coronavirus. We’ve seen the NBA’s response. NHL has yet to follow. But I wouldn’t be surprised if upcoming events are moved to the UFC Apex in Vegas with no live crowd.”

The night of March 11, it was revealed that the NBA was suspending the season indefinitely after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Here is the league’s statement:

The statement reads:

The NBA announced that a player on the Utah Jazz has preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19. The test result was reported shortly prior to tip-off of tonight’s game between the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. At that time, tonight’s game was canceled. The affected player was not in the arena.

The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice. The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.

And in the early afternoon of March 12, the NHL decided to follow suit. Here is the league’s statement:

The beginning of the statement reads:

In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus, and after consulting with medical experts and convening a conference call of the Board of Governors, the National Hockey League is announcing today that it will pause their 2019-20 season beginning with tonight’s games.

The NHL then goes on to say that since the NBA and NHL share facilities and locker rooms, it wouldn’t be appropriate to continue playing games at this time.

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Will the UFC Be Next to Take Action?

The NHL and NBA have suspended their seasons, and as per Fowlkes’ sources, the UFC may decide to follow suit.

The UFC’s next event takes place in Brasilia, Brazil, and it’s scheduled to go ahead on Saturday, March 14. However, as reported by MMA Fighting, Thursday’s media event was canceled due to the Federal District Governor Ibaneis Rocha banning public gatherings of more than 100 people.

It was reported by TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter that “Per Combate, the UFC plans to hold UFC Brasilia at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium with closed gates per the venue’s management Arena Bsb.” However, the UFC has yet to officially confirm these plans.

The events following this weekend’s UFC are UFC Fight Night: 171 in London, UK; UFC on ESPN 8 in Columbus, Ohio; UFC Fight Night 172 in Portland, Ore; and UFC 249 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Each area is experiencing an outbreak of the coronavirus. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced yesterday that he will issue an order to suspend mass gatherings, and on March 12, Oregon Governor Kate Brown banned gatherings of more than 250 people.

It was also announced on March 12 that New York is banning most public gatherings of more than 500 people.

Is the UFC Apex Center the Solution?

There are three feasible solutions to combat the coronavirus outbreak for the UFC. They could cancel their events. It is not unprecedented for the promotion to cancel an event. For example, the promotion canceled UFC 151 after Dan Henderson had to pull out of his main event match with Jon Jones.

Another solution would be to move events to states that haven’t been affected by the coronavirus as badly as others. For example, the fight capital, Las Vegas, has not banned public gatherings yet. They could move fight cards to the T-Mobile Arena and run them there. However, the financial strain to move events may not be worth it to the promotion.

The third solution is having the fights take place in the UFC Apex Center, in Vegas.

The UFC Apex Center is a 130,000 square-foot production facility, and as per the website, “[It] has built-in, advanced production capabilities with an arena space that can be configured to accommodate a variety of live events, including other sports competitions, concerts, stage shows, esports tournaments, and more.”

The promotion could consider hosting the events without an audience and behind closed doors. They may considering canceling the smaller events, like the Columbus or Portland cards, and move UFC 249 to the Apex Center.

It is highly likely that the UFC will reveal their decision within the coming days.

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