ESPN Calls the Shots When It Comes to Dana White and the UFC

UFC president Dana White was adamant that UFC 249 was going to happen on April 18. While every other American sport has had upcoming events either postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, White still wants UFC fights to happen. However, now that the UFC has a deal with ESPN, White does not always call the shots anymore. The TV network and its parent company, Disney, do.

Dana White and the UFC agreed to a deal with ESPN

UFC president Dana White wanted UFC 249 to happen. However, he does not call the shots anymore. ESPN is the one in charge now.
UFC President Dana White speaks to the media during a press conference. | Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In 2018, ESPN agreed to a five-year deal with the UFC worth $1.5 billion. This ultimately took the rights from FOX, according to Sports Illustrated. However, in March 2019, the two sides came to terms on a new agreement that extended its deal from five years to seven. The latest deal made ESPN+ the exclusive provider for UFC pay-per-view events in the U.S. through 2025, according to Sports Illustrated. 

“Today’s announcement further establishes the strength of the partnership between UFC and ESPN,” White said in March 2019, according to Sports Illustrated. “Now our fans will be able to watch all UFC events exclusively on ESPN platforms, including ESPN+, which is an innovative way to deliver fights to our young fan base. I couldn’t be more excited to work with ESPN for the next seven years. Together we’re going to do amazing things to help grow this sport.”

Dana White

Trying to make sure UFC 249 still goes on

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the sports world hard. Huge sporting events have either been postponed or canceled in the United States. However, White still wants UFC fights to go on. 

UFC 249 was originally supposed to take place at the Barclays Center but was forced to be moved due to COVID-19. White then said the fights would take place at an undisclosed location. However, reports came out earlier this week that he was going to hold them at a casino resort on California tribal land, according to Yahoo. Having it on tribal land would have allowed the UFC to get around the federal and state regulations having to do with COVID-19.

White confirmed that report in an interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto on Thursday. He said, “Tachi Palace in California — the Indian reservation — has had our back this whole time, has stood their ground, and was willing to do this fight.”

White then added that once the world gets back to normal that he will do a fight at Tachi Palace. 

ESPN and Disney call the shots

Again, White has been adamant about these fights happening. If it were up to him, they would still happen. However, it is not up to him.

“Today, we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level of ESPN … and the powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday,” White told Okamoto.

Dana White

ESPN then said in a statement that the network, “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.”

Dana White is his own man and he runs the UFC. He has faced criticism for still wanting to do these fights but he wants to have entertainment for Americans. However, while White runs the UFC, ESPN seems to run the partnership. White also said this to ESPN, “I can go next week. So, whenever my partner gives me the thumbs-up that they’re ready to go, I’m ready to go.”

White likes to give off the impression that he is the man in charge when in all reality ESPN is the one who has the final say. Fights will most likely not happen until ESPN says they can.