Photo courtesy of the UFC (Facebook/@UFC)

The UFC was last to go down swinging but Coronavirus continues to disrupt

The tough, sports-less, times are upon us. Our beloved MMA was one of the final hurdles to be knocked over by the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the fight calendars have been all but cleared. And they will continue to be for the foreseeable future as owners, athletes, and fans all shelter-in place in hopes of a better tomorrow.

At the time of writing this, Cage Warriors 113 is still set to take place in Manchester, England. Set to be headlined by Bartosz Fabinski and Darren Stewart, two fighters who were supposed to be featuring on UFC’s London card this weekend, it is something for MMA connoisseurs to look forward to. But beyond that, we are staring into a bit of a nothingness.

As the whole world continues to go into lockdown, the UFC and its fans are set to suffer the most in the near future. Dana White was reluctantly forced to cancel the promotion’s next three events (including London) despite his best efforts, bringing their schedule up to the long overdue and highly anticipated card set to feature Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson on April 18.

That’s where things get tricky. The UFC boss is adamant that the arguably most highly anticipated bout in the company’s history will go ahead as planned but at a different venue (prev. scheduled for Brooklyn). But the prognosis of experts does not predict the Coronavirus to slow down on the havoc it’s been wreaking for the past few months any time soon, so it’ll be interesting to see what White can come up with in order to prevent the virus from pulling the plug on Khabib vs. Ferguson for the fourth time.

SBG Ireland’s head coach John Kavanagh jokingly tweeted a few weeks back that only a pandemic virus could stop this blockbuster fight from happening again, and it’s beginning to feel like that matchup may be cursed. Maybe the MMA God just don’t want us to see it…

But you get the feeling that the UFC will go above and beyond to make it happen. White was close to pulling off a miracle card to replace the canceled event in London. The UFC boss revealed on ESPN’s SportsCenter that he was working on securing a venue — the FireLake Arena which is an Indian Reservation in Oklahoma — in an attempt to make some sort of a fight card go ahead as planned.

The UFC also reached out to managers of fighters that are not currently under contract with the company and also to its veterans in order to put together some bouts, but everything was shut down when U.S. President Donald Trump declared that the country would not be letting people from outside its borders enter for a month as a precaution to stop the spread of the virus. That’s when all of the major promotions went into lockdown.

Bellator were initially set on having their 241st event in Connecticut take place behind closed doors, but Scott Coker, also reluctantly, was forced to eventually pull the plug on that too. Canceling that event will have caused some disruption to Bellator’s Featherweight World Grand Prix, but unlike his counterparts, Coker does not have another event scheduled until May 9, giving himself and his partners plenty of time to figure out a modified game plan moving forward.

But with that said, it’s tough to plan anything against a virus as vicious as this one. What we are witnessing right now is completely unprecedented. This will go into history books at schools years from now. The whole world has been affected and there has been no real signs of improvement.

Every country is seemingly looking for their own ways to battle it and companies just have to adapt and roll with it. The most powerful men in MMA have to dance to whatever music the world leader’s play them. And if the global lockdown continues, there is nothing White, Coker, and co. can do about it. Even events behind closed doors go out the window.

And that’s the scary part. Businesses can’t go on without operating for too long. There are so many rosters of fighters that need to be paid, sponsorship obligations that need to be fulfilled, television deals that need to be continued. Canceling events hurts MMA promotions and the fighters a lot. It’s a sport that relies heavily on ticket sales, too. Therefore, fighting behind closed doors can only go on for a certain amount of time before it becomes less profitable.

This is a difficult period. Not only for fans who are starved of action in their favorite sports, but for everyone involved in the sports world. Bosses can’t organize events. Athletes can’t play. Coaches can’t coach. Journalists can’t cover. Fans can’t cheer. It’s like the world has flipped upside down for everyone. And the worst part is that we don’t have any clue how long this will go on for.

How long can sports franchises and fight promotions operate as normal financially before the virus delivers a heavy blow? How long can athletes, fans, and regular people be locked down inside their homes in hopes of the virus being contained? These are challenging times for everyone. This is new for everyone. And all we can really do is follow the guidelines of the brave medical field workers worldwide, stay at home, and hope our efforts together can bring a stop to this terror.


Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos


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