Dana White will go to any length to make sure that UFC 249 is held as scheduled next week, and he’s showing that resolve by preparing to move his fighters to a private island.
His innovative approach comes at a time when the NBA is exploring using Las Vegas as a hub, MLB is scouting Arizona locations and the NHL is talking about picking up its season in a sparsely populated state.
Dana White tries to save UFC 249 and future cards
UFC president Dana White is determined to keep the world’s dominant mixed martial arts organization moving forward despite the COVID-19 pandemic that’s shut down all American sports and many other aspects of the country.
White told TMZ on Monday that he is close to moving UFC 249, which was originally scheduled to take place in Brooklyn, to a private island. The card would still take place April 18, with fighters being brought in on private plans. White did not disclose the location but indicated an announcement is imminent.
White’s vision for UFC 249 and beyond is not without obstacles. He wants every fighter, trainer, and production staff employee screened before departing for the island. With so much at stake if even one person should become ill on the island, there could be quarantines involved before travel begins.
White wants to use the island for two months in order to keep the UFC schedule from being backed up. UFC 250 was originally planned for Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 9 and UFC 251 was slated for Perth Australia on June 6.
The UFC is also trying to save smaller events, beginning with UFC Fight Night cards April 25 in Nebraska, May 2 in Oklahoma and May 16 at an undetermined location. Moving to a private island would eliminate live audiences but would retain the ability to put events on pay-per-view.
PPV has long been lucrative for the UFC and could potentially do better at a time when other sports remain suspended and boredom has set in for Americans who find themselves all but confined to their homes other than to shop for food.
MLB discussions about Arizona are escalating
Each of the major pro sports organizations is a multi-billion-dollar operation currently facing substantial financial harm by not being able to play regular-season games. All of them are looking for options that would at least allow them to resume televising games to re-open a revenue source. In each case, moving all the teams to central locations is being viewed as realistic.
ESPN reported that federal public health officials have told Major League Baseball executives that they think it could soon be safe to operate in and around Phoenix. That area of Arizona has multiple small stadiums and training facilities that could be limited to just players and staff.
As is the case with the ambitious plan for UFC 249 and beyond, testing would have to be conducted and then the players and staff would be sequestered at hotels other than for workouts and games.
It’s been widely assumed that spring training would have to start from scratch, requiring a month before games would start. That could be trimmed to three weeks but brings into play the question of roster sizes as teams wouldn’t be able to rely on their farm systems for injury call-ups or to bring up a pitcher for a spot start.
Playing seven-inning doubleheaders and using electronic strike-zone technology have also been discussed, ESPN reported.
The NBA and NHL have similar concepts in mind
While MLB is focused on its regular season and hopeful that teams could return home to play before their fans by August, the NBA has become increasingly focused on calling an end to its regular season with 15 to 19 games per team remaining. Basketball officials are exploring following the UFC 249 model and conducting their entire playoffs in Las Vegas, the gambling and entertainment mecca that’s gone dark.
The NHL has also discussed going to a central location but is limited because few concentrated areas have enough rinks. Fewer still have regulation-size sheets of ice. A report over the weekend said the NHL is exploring North Dakota as an option.
Overseas, the English Premier League is considering quarantining its teams and playing the rest of the soccer season in empty stadiums.