After every major professional sports league in the United States decided this week to either suspend their seasons indefinitely or shut down entirely because of the coronavirus pandemic, the UFC pivoted in a different direction.
UFC president Dana White went on "SportsCenter" Thursday evening to officially say that Saturday's UFC Fight Night card in Brasilia, Brazil will occur without fans or media in attendance. White also said the March 21 Fight Night card in London would have fans in attendance, but if the local government says differently, then it will comply. When the organization returns to the U.S. for its events on Saturday, March 28, and April 11, they will be moved to the UFC APEX facility in Las Vegas and will not be open to fans. The cards were initially being slated to take place in Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Ore., respectively.
"We're working directly with the Nevada State Athletic Commission and executive director Bob Bennett," White said. "We're always looking out for the health and safety of our fans, our athletes, whatever it might be. Obviously, this thing is going on. We're going to do the same thing: We're going to make sure two healthy athletes are competing."
UFC President @danawhite joined @SportsCenter to confirm reports that #UFCBrasilia will take place in an empty arena with only “the staff that’s running event."— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 13, 2020
He added that #UFCLondon "will proceed as planned" and #UFCColumbus be moved to the UFC Apex facility. pic.twitter.com/IqjcvWdXEO
White boasted about the health and safety measures the UFC has installed to protect its fighters, and no one has ever died or suffered a serious injury under his watch. White also said the UFC has consulted with health experts, state officials, and doctors to help it develop a response to the coronavirus, which includes infrared thermometers to screen fighters before they step inside the octagon.
He also stated that he spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and was offered a piece of advice while seemingly taking a jab at the sports organizations who decided to shut things down due to the spreading virus.
"I talked to the president and the vice president about this, and they're taking this very seriously," White said. "They’re saying, ‘Be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking.’ Everybody is panicking, and instead of panicking, we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how to keep the sport safe and continue to put on events.”
With the World Health Organization announcing the coronavirus is now a pandemic, major sports organizations such as the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS have suspended their ongoing seasons, and the NCAA has canceled the men's and women's championship tournament.