U.F.C. 249, a mixed martial arts showcase that had been scheduled for April 18 on Native American tribal land in California, has been canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dana White, the U.F.C. president, said Thursday.
White said in an interview on ESPN that he had received calls from “the highest level” of leadership at Disney and ESPN asking him not to hold the event, which featured 12 fights. ESPN holds the rights to broadcast U.F.C. fights and to sell its pay-per-view events, and Disney is the parent company of ESPN.
“The powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday,” White said.
The cancellation comes after the card, originally scheduled for Barclays Center in Brooklyn, was moved because it was forbidden by regulators who were trying to comply with public health guidance about curtailing large gatherings.
White insisted that he could move forward with putting on fights, and said Thursday that his efforts to keep U.F.C. 249 intact had been “a battle since Day 1.”
ESPN declined to comment to The New York Times.
The headline fight was originally a lightweight title bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. But Nurmagomedov traveled from San Jose, Calif., where he was training, to his home in the Dagestan region of Russia as organizers were still trying to find a firm location for the fight. Then he withdrew when it became clear he would have problems traveling back to the United States to compete.
Earlier on Thursday, Brian Butler, the manager of the strawweight fighter Rose Namajunas, said she had withdrawn from her bout in U.F.C. 249 because two of her family members had died. Their deaths, Butler said, “were related to the coronavirus.”
Butler added on Instagram, “Her hopes are to return to the octagon as soon as possible.”
The fights were to be held at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, on tribal land about 40 miles south of Fresno, Calif. The state regulators refused to authorize the event, putting the U.F.C. in a position to provide its own referees, judges, medical staff and other services to make the fights happen.
In staging the event on tribal land, the U.F.C. was attempting to get around stay-at-home orders that have been issued in nearly every state, as well as state athletic commissions that have refused to approve any fights during the pandemic.
But because of a nearly 70-year-old federal law, Public Law 280, California state and local officials have broad authority to intervene in criminal and civil matters on tribal land, and top officials were beginning to make public their discomfort with the event.
An hour before the event was canceled, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California called for it to be delayed. Though acknowledging it was to be held on sovereign tribal land, she said in a statement that “at best this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted” and that “at worst, participants and support staff could carry the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread.”
White said U.F.C. 249 was part of a broader plan to maintain a regular schedule of fights — starting with two months of events at the resort. He said on Thursday that he still planned to hold events for fighters on a private island outside the United States.
“Fight island is real — it’s a real thing,” White said. “The infrastructure is being built right now.”
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