On Friday, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White announced that UFC 249, a major fighting championship planned to take place at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, has been cancelled due to the last minute intervention of California Governor Gavin Newsom.
The cancellation of UFC 249 in California
UFC had been one of the few sporting events that continued following the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, with UFC 249 having been moved from Brooklyn to Las Vegas before social distancing measures forced a move to a Native American reservation. The Tachi Palace Casino Resort does not currently follow federal or state measures due to being on tribal land. The move to tribal lands would have only been temporary as UFC is in the process of securing a private island for such events.
However, Governor Newsom, who is concerned about a coronavirus spread at such an event, called high level executives at both Disney and ESPN, who summarily contacted White to order it being shut down.
“ESPN has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249. 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,” said the UFC in a statement on the cancellation Friday.
White himself also responded to the cancellation.
“I was ready to go on Saturday, but Disney and ESPN asked me to step down,” stated White on Friday. “We got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney and the highest level at ESPN. One thing I’ve said since we started our relationship and partnership at ESPN is it’s been an incredible one. It’s been an amazing partnership ESPN has been very very good to us and the powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday.”
Newsom’s role in the scrapping of the fight
Governor Newsom’s call has been seen as highly suspect, especially considering the speed of which the event was shut down. Newsom had called Disney officials including Disney Chairman and former CEO Bob Iger, a major backer and supporter of Newsom who has had a history of backing Democratic candidates.
“This is a major decision that is actually very political,” explained political analyst Chelsea Warner. “Dana White is a big time Trump supporter who even gave a speech at the RNC in 2016. Whereas most sports events have shut down, White has kept them going in the UFC. Networks like ESPN have actually been really looking forward to these as they’re one of the few live games in town.”
“Disney owns ESPN and has been generally fine with this, albeit with some social distancing measures in there. When Governor Cuomo shut down New York, they moved the event to Vegas, and then at the Indian Casino. Newsom has NOT wanted anything like this, as he’s even starting to say that NFL games in September may not be happening in California.”
“So he pulled some strings with friends at Disney. White himself said the top people at Disney ordered this, and guess who Newsom knows well there? Iger and the lot.”
“He can say that this is because of the coronavirus, and truth be told it partially is, but a big part of this was also political. Given everyone’s history it’s kinda hard to deny that. Someone I know in the UFC even said that this was a hidden extension of Trump’s feud with Californian Democrats.”
Despite the cancellation, UFC’s island acquisition is expected to continue events within a few months.