Opinion: The UFC 249 Moral MInefield
On April 6, 2020, amidst a worldwide pandemic, Dana White announced that the UFC were making an unprecedented move. They would be going ahead with their scheduled UFC 249 event on April 18. Originally scheduled to take place in Brooklyn, New York, it will now take place at an unnamed location rumored to be somewhere on the West coast of the U.S.
Along with the location switch up, the card has taken a hit too. A few fights have been cancelled and a few have been added. It is still a card any MMA fan would want to see, if not more enticing than the original card.
The main event which initially was set to consist of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson for the Lightweight title is no longer happening. Khabib, due to some miscommunication, flew back to Dagestan in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as soon as he landed, Russia and its surrounding nations were put on lockdown. With that, it meant no flights would be able to go in or out of the country.
But even though a similar travel ban has been imposed in the USA, it hasn’t stopped the event. Khabib, however, confirmed on April 1 during a live Instagram session that he would adhere to his governments advice and isolate as told.
So, with Khabib vs. Ferguson scrapped for the fifth time, stepping in to replace Khabib is his management stablemate Justin Gaethje — creating a fight which is a barn burner in itself, but certainly not what the fans have been craving for five years. Other card changes include the additions of Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro and Michael Johnson vs. Khama Worthy, to name a few. A couple of opponent changes have also happened due to the global crisis. But the card is STACKED.
But, with all that now being said, should this event be taking place?
All other major MMA promotions across the world including Bellator and ONE Championship have postponed their events for the foreseeable future. In fact, all major sports leagues and promotions have postponed their operations, with Scott Coker (Bellator owner) being quoted saying he couldn’t live with himself if just one person became ill due to one of their events. A fair and level headed view.
Only one industry has set the precedent of carrying on, and that is professional wrestling (WWE). All events have been behind closed doors so far and it doesn’t appear as though any of their superstars have contracted the virus since. There is one major difference however, their events are pre taped and spaced out so that they can maintain social distancing as much as possible. There are no large groups involved and therefore they are sticking to the guidelines. The events are also taking place in the USA and at a company owned performance centre. Safety is a lot easier to maintain for all in these situations.
The UFC, however, cannot assure the same safe practices. While 249 will also take place behind closed doors, there are a lot more people that will all need to be transported, as well all the gear for the bouts and production. People will be overworked, tired and crammed in with many others. It is a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. And with the virus being so undetectable, it is also fair to assume that at least one person on board of these potential flights will be a carrier for the virus due to its wide spread across the U.S.
The figures are currently horrifying to look at in a nation that has not done well to protect its citizens. The U.S. has the largest amount of confirmed cases across the globe. They are nearing the biggest death toll and as of writing this, only 32 states out of 50 have adopted lockdown measures. It is terrifying to think what impact this will have on their nation overall. Estimates predict that approx. 200,000 people in the U.S. alone will die from the virus.
Yet, the UFC proceeds.
Assuming that someone involved could be a carrier, what will happen during fight week? The fighters will be dehydrated, drained and have a weakened immune system because of that. How can the UFC ensure their safety? They can’t. How can they ensure the safety of their staff? They can’t. This kind of behaviour is all too reminiscent of the early days of MMA and the UFC where they had to fight on Indian reservations just to keep their business afloat. These however are not the old days and this is a multi-billion industry now.
Why do the UFC need this event? In short. They don’t. Many people online are claiming they will boycott the event, and with many people already cancelling their ESPN+ subscriptions in America due to no sport being on, will there be many eyes on them? Debatably, yes. While many are claiming they will boycott, etc. The temptation of watching any form of live sport will be tantalizing for any fan while this pandemic is happening. Mental capacities are at their peak and people are itching for something new to watch. It could be a genius move by the UFC if they can pull off the event safely. They will be the ONLY sport to be watched and that alone will bring the numbers in.
Is the money worth the risk? Khabib doesn’t think so. In the same Instagram live in which he announced he wouldn’t be fighting at UFC 249, he also encouraged the rest of the world to stay home and stay safe. UFC commentator Joe Rogan also insisted on his podcast that he would not attend the event if it went ahead either. However, since then, Dana White has rubbished those rumours and claimed that Rogan will be on location to call the fights.
It should also be noted, that Khabib said he would attend if there was a way to find him a flight out. There seems to be a lot of hypocrisy within the industry itself right now and the lack of concern for people overall is disturbing on a few levels.
In my opinion, the risk is not worth it. I will watch the event (which is my hypocrisy) but only because my intrigue is peaked and I love the sport. However, I would prefer that it was cancelled. The risk of just one person involved spreading it to other people working this event is terrifying. That then puts so many other people at risk as a result once the people involved with UFC 249 return home, including their family members. It could be a devastating domino effect.
I would rather the safety of many over the wants of a few. The greed, selfishness and ignorance that is being shown by the UFC is unprecedented in these times. I believe all events should be postponed until we are clear of this virus.