First and foremost, you’d be hard-pressed to find many who wanted to see another fight event more than myself, but even with the most selfish mindset, a reality check came quickly. When UFC 249 was officially canceled this week, there were many initial reactions, anger, disappointment, and relief, all from different avenues of those involved in the fight game.
With ESPN and Disney forcing Dana White’s hand and canceling not only UFC 249 but postponing all upcoming events, MMA’s worldwide leader has come to a halting stop when there was optimism from the promotion with just over a week to go until the show was set to take place. Throughout a worldwide pandemic, White maintained optimism that he would put on fights to keep the UFC going and to bring entertainment and a sporting event to everyone worldwide.
During the time in which uncertainty of UFC 249 actually happening was taking place, some media proceeded with a “business as usual” mentality, while others became very critical to the mere idea of the promotion putting on events during trying times. COVID-19 is not just an enemy forcing one section of the world to change their everyday lives, it’s affecting the entire world. In a society that would tell athletes to “stick to sports” that simple mindset no longer exists when sports, work, and our every day lives no longer operate as we all were once accustomed to.
Let’s get the fight reality out of the way. When the event was announced it was set to be lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov taking on Tony Ferguson in what was the fifth time these two had been scheduled to fight each other, and every time something has made that booking fall through. As travel restrictions started to increase, Nurmagomedov left California to head back to Russia towards the end of his training camp per usual, and once he arrived, he was stuck. Due to the limitations on travel, the UFC hurried to make an interim title fight between Justin Gaethje and Ferguson, with the winner presumably set to meet Nurmagomedov later in 2020.
After scurrying to make a full fight card with a new main event, former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas withdrew from her scheduled rematch against Jessica Andrade in the co-main event. Namajunas had two family members pass away due to COVID-19 and the least important for her at this time, is having a fight.
With two lost fights and a shuffled card, the UFC still kept excitement for a card because they were going to be the only show in town. Even more seriously, the reality was there was a promotion willing to put on a fight card, not only for the fans but to keep business moving, in a business where you need to compete to get paid.
Following the cancelation of UFC 249 and the postponement of upcoming events, there was a major finger-pointing game between the UFC, fight managers, fighters, and the media. To point fingers in a time where thousands of lives are being lost is not only horrid but disappointing. Figuring out where the “blame” needs to go for the decision to pull events is not what’s most important.
Yes, fighters wanted to fight, the UFC wanted to promote the event, and managers wanted to keep business going, as did some, but not all, of the media, but the higher business spoke. Maybe with the time off, fight fans will get the matchups they deserve and want, while fighters should be getting compensated during time off, and return to face their rightful and deserved opponents.
This wasn’t an easy move on any side, and there needs to be at least some respective sympathy for the fighters, coaches, and managers who were willing to step up and fight because not only is this their paycheck, this is their way of life. Most fighters get into the sport because they’re unwilling to quit on themselves or give into their current situation, so it’s no surprise to see so many willing to fight during trying times.
UFC 249 needed to be canceled, events needed to be postponed, but here’s hoping that it helped save many, helped put the fights together that need to be made, and will bring more excitement when things return to business as usual.