The UFC is pressing forward with its UFC 249 pay-per-view event on April 18, just as the promotion’s president Dana White had promised.
Of course, there have been significant changes along the way. A highly anticipated lightweight title headliner between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson was scrapped after Nurmagomedov got stranded in his native Dagestan due to travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Fan favorite Justin Gaethje has taken his place on short notice and will fight Ferguson for an interim belt.
The winner is expected to face Nurmagomedov next, potentially as early as August.
Former UFC women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas withdrew from her scheduled co-main event bout with Jessica Andrade for undisclosed reasons, ESPN confirmed with sources.
In an interview with ESPN, White said keeping this event together amid everything going on in the world is the hardest thing his company has ever done. Here’s what we know about UFC 249, and the questions that remain.
Where will the event take place?
UFC 249 will indeed take place April 18, with what should be an action-packed main event scheduled. Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, two of the UFC’s most exciting fighters, will compete for the interim 155-pound title. Khabib Nurmagomedov was originally scheduled to defend his lightweight title against Ferguson, but he was forced to pull out because of the coronavirus lockdown in his home country of Russia.
UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje
• Saturday, April 18
• Site, time, broadcast info TBA
This one won’t be on the private island White said he secured to stage fights with international fighters, and it won’t be in Brooklyn as originally scheduled. The UFC is not disclosing the location of this event. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the card will take place at Tachi Palace Resort and Casino, which is located on a Native American reservation in central California. The site has a history of holding MMA events. World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) ran 22 events there between 2001 and 2010 before being absorbed into the UFC. For the last several years, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) has regulated events at Tachi Palace. But that will not be the case this time. Flights are being booked to Fresno, according to a source, and fighters and cornermen are expected to arrive the middle of next week.
Will fighters as well as event personnel at the event be tested for COVID-19?
Fighters and corner people have been told they will be tested for COVID-19 on site, sources confirmed. Sources said that the UFC is also arranging for COVID-19 tests to be sent to the homes of fighters and corner people in advance of the card. The UFC has not officially announced whether athletes and staff will be tested for COVID-19. White told ESPN on Monday, “Listen, we’re going to go above and beyond, and do everything we can to make sure everybody is safe.”
Will fighters be drug tested?
In an interview with ESPN, White said, “It’s going to be just like a normal event, yes. There will be drug testing, the whole deal.” The United States Anti-Doping Agency, which administers the UFC’s anti-doping program, indicated in a statement to ESPN on Wednesday that it intends to be involved in UFC 249. “With all consideration to athlete safety and logistical challenges, we’re going to do everything in our power to conduct UFC event testing,” USADA director of communications Adam Woullard said. “Just like the referees in the Octagon, our doping control officers are an essential part of a fair fight.”
Will fighters get medicals?
The UFC has stated all athletes will undergo the standard medical evaluation that is performed prior to all sanctioned events.
Where and how have fighters been training?
This varies. Gaethje told ESPN he’s been training in a private facility with fewer than 10 people — three training partners, two coaches and a videographer. Ferguson has been training in his private facility in California since December. Heavyweight Francis Ngannou has been working out at his home, and occasionally with head coach Eric Nicksick at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. Featherweight Jeremy Stephens has posted videos on social media working alongside UFC bantamweight Dominick Cruz.
How will fighters cut weight?
According to a Yahoo Sports! report, the UFC is working on adding a treadmill to every fighter’s hotel room at the undisclosed location, as well as making portable saunas available. Some athletes also use Epsom baths to cut weight, which can be done from a hotel room.
How do you get fighters/officials transported during a lockdown?
White told ESPN that transportation plans are still being put into place, and would include air travel.
Will it be sanctioned, if so by whom?
That’s currently unknown. The UFC has not officially disclosed the location of the bout, and therefore, it is unclear whose jurisdiction it falls under. In the absence of an athletic commission, the UFC self-regulates and has a long history of doing so internationally. In a statement to ESPN on Wednesday, the Association of Boxing Commissions, which is a collection of athletic commissions across the U.S., said it is maintaining a “neutral” stance on the event being staged, and will acknowledge all bout results as official. “I have discussed the matter with the ABC board of directors, and officials from the UFC,” ABC president Brian Dunn said in the statement. “They agreed to increase medical presence and regulate the event by international standards. The official ABC position is neutral on the matter, as we do not have jurisdiction.”
Max Kellerman explains why Dana White is sending a positive message by conducting UFC 249 at an undisclosed location and securing a private island for future events.
Who will appoint officials such as refs and judges?
If the UFC self-regulates, the promotion will make those selections itself. Again, this is not an uncommon practice in markets that lack athletic commissions. The one thing known for sure is that CSAC will not regulate UFC 249. The commission has canceled all events until June 1 and in a statement wrote it “encourages the industry to do the same.” The Association of Ringside Physicians wrote in a statement that it recommends “all combat sporting events be postponed until further notice.” It’s possible the UFC will hire its own ringside physicians.
Where will fighters go if they need to be transported to the hospital?
According to the report from Yahoo! Sports, there will be a Level 1 trauma center available on fight night for athletes who require medical attention.
Who will be allowed in the arena?
In his interview with ESPN, White referenced the UFC Fight Night event on March 14 in Brasilia, Brazil. That event took place in an empty arena, with no more than 50 people in the building at any time. White said certain measures would once again be taken to keep the number of people in the building low, though he did not go into specifics. “A lot of things will be different,” White said. “My staff to cornermen to family members that go to the events, the list goes on and on.” There will be three people allowed to the work the corners of fighters, as usual.
Will media be present?
White said select media will be approved to attend the event in some capacity. Details regarding fighter access and interviews have not been disclosed.
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