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Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of
Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company,
Evolve Media.

* * *


After a long and tumultuous battle to keep business operations
running during the COVID-19 pandemic, UFC President Dana White on
April finally made the call to postpone the promotion’s events
indefinitely.
The longtime MMA promoter had been adamant
about the
Ultimate Fighting Championship
continuing to stage cards behind
closed doors, testing fighters and staff for the coronavirus to
ensure that any fights would be conducted in a safe
environment.


Set to host events at the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino
for the
next several weeks until
the company could secure a private island
, the promotion had
faced mounting pressure from the media and health organizations to
cancel upcoming cards until further notice, citing not only
COVID-19 concerns but the unnecessary strain to the healthcare
system from fighter injuries in the cage. However, White’s decision
to delay was less of a tapout and more of a corner throwing in the
towel, as it
took calls from California Governor Gavin Newsom, California
Senator Dianne Feinstein and high-ranking executives within Disney
and ESPN
for the 50-year-old to finally acquiesce and call off
the upcoming UFC 249 pay-per-view.

Considering the risks involved, very few have questioned the choice
to postpone combat sports. The Association
of Ringside Physicians called for an indefinite suspension of
sporting events earlier this month
, and almost every state
athletic commission has pulled licensing approval for fights until
further notice. Several prominent MMA pundits took to social media
to state that they believed canceling UFC 249 to be the right move,
even if they were disappointed that the sport they loved would
remain on an extended hiatus. Even event headliner Tony
Ferguson
admitted that he was “sure it was for a good reason”
when he found out the pay-per-view was off during
an interview with the Orange County Register
.

With that said, what if the media, government and UFC’s business
partners were wrong? What if White’s original mantra of “the show
must go on” was the right call during the COVID-19 pandemic? That’s
obviously a big if, but nevertheless, it warrants further
discussion.


The UFC president has been known to make lemonade when life hands
him lemons
, and UFC 249 seemed to be no different. After
lightweight champion Khabib
Nurmagomedov
was
forced to bow out of the card
, White managed to put together an
intriguing matchup between Ferguson and Justin
Gaethje
for the interim 155-pound belt; it was likely the best
alternative option to the original main event. Not only that, but
the Manchester, Connecticut, native reconstructed the lineup with
fights from previously postponed events, resulting in what looked
to be one of the best cards on paper in recent memory.



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Imagine if the location for UFC 249 had not been revealed and the
event took place without those in attendance contracting the
coronavirus or needing hospitalization. The UFC would have been the
only sporting event available to the masses over the upcoming
weekend, which could have led to a massive increase in casual
viewership.
Just ask World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon
. Fans
who could afford it would have gladly ponied up the $64.99 purchase
price for the event, with the promotion possibly drawing in the
aforementioned casual viewers and a subset of customers who
normally watch fights out at participating bars and restaurants.
White’s actions would have no doubt been called reckless by much of
the media, but the added exposure, potential PPV butyrate and

money from fulfilling its media rights contract with ESPN
would
have been more than worth it in his eyes.

The decision to move forward with events also had a fair share of
support behind it. Upon hearing UFC 249 was postponed,
many fighters praised White’s attempt to keep the show going
,
with some lashing out at the media and government for the loss of
the card and potential income. Droves of hardcore fans were also
supportive of White’s actions, jeering at pundits who had called
for UFC 249 to be canceled. If no one had gotten sick or required
hospitalization as a result of the event, the praise for the UFC
president would have been at an all-time high among his most loyal
customers, furthering the cult of personality he has developed with
them over the past two decades.

It’s no secret that both the UFC and parent company Endeavor are in
a rough spot financially at the moment, and continuing events
without interruption could have been a lifeline.
Both entities recently had their credit rating downgraded by
S&P Global
, which cited each company’s reliance on event
revenue during the pandemic as substantially high-risk. Endeavor
has already suffered through layoffs and cutbacks since the
COVID-19 catastrophe took hold and
used $300 million from the UFC to pay out a dividend to its
shareholders after a failed IPO in 2019
. If White had been
allowed to move forward with UFC 249, the money from the ESPN media
rights deal would have been extremely helpful to the promotion and
its parent entity, helping to keep both afloat during this
unprecedented crisis.

Moving forward with UFC 249 as the world reels from the coronavirus
would have certainly been one of the riskiest moves the promotion
had ever made, but the rewards for pulling it off successfully were
massive. Fighters would have gotten paid, the UFC would have
brought in some much-needed revenue and the fans at home who long
for some semblance of normalcy would have gotten to watch the sport
they love again. As it stands now,
the promotion is set to move ahead in early May
, looking to
host events out of the UFC Apex in Las Vegas while only delaying
UFC 249 by three weeks. With another 35 events to put on this year
if the UFC hopes to fulfill its contract with ESPN, you can rest
assured that White will do everything in his power to make those
cards happen. The question: Will he be in the right to do so?

Help Prevent the Spread of the Coronavirus

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possible during this urgent time. Visit the Centers for Disease
Control at CDC.gov or
the World Health Organization at Who.int for the latest information on the coronavirus
and learn what you can do to stop the spread.

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