U.F.C. 249, Skirting Coronavirus Limits, Is Set for Tribal Land in California


“The commission echoes the guidance of California Governor Gavin Newsom, the Department of Public Health, local health officials, and the recommendations of the Association of Ringside Physicians regarding the cancellation of events where people may be at risk of contracting Covid-19 and encourages the industry to do the same,” the California athletic commission said in a statement. “The commission will not participate in the U.F.C. event on April 18, regardless of the event location.”

U.F.C. 249 was originally scheduled to be held on April 18 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and to be headlined by a lightweight championship bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson — one of the U.F.C.’s most anticipated matchups in years. But after Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York restricted mass gatherings and the New York State Athletic Commission announced it wouldn’t authorize the event, White said the U.F.C. would go forward at a different location.

On Monday, White said that Nurmagomedov, now at home in Dagestan, Russia, was out of the fight and would be replaced by Justin Gaethje in the interim lightweight title matchup. Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have been scheduled to fight each other five times since 2015, but each plan fell apart because of injury, illness and now the pandemic.

To book any fights involving athletes who cannot travel to the United States, White has said he secured an island but has not disclosed where.

Though the U.F.C. produces all of its own events, the April 18 pay-per-view event will be sold by ESPN+, ESPN’s streaming service, and the preliminary card will be scheduled for one of ESPN’s cable channels. An ESPN spokeswoman declined to comment on Tuesday.

Tribal casinos, including the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, regularly host mixed martial arts and boxing matches with the full support and participation of state athletic commissions. World Extreme Cagefighting, a mixed martial arts company founded in 2001, held most of its first two dozen events at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort. It was purchased in 2006 by Zuffa, then the parent entity of the U.F.C., and merged with the U.F.C. in 2010.

But tribal casinos also sometimes host mixed martial arts events that cannot be sanctioned elsewhere, a form of venue shopping that most state athletic commissions view unfavorably.



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