With Reckless Abandon: UFC Will Bypass COVID-19 Restrictions and Hold Event on Tribal Land in California
April 8, 2020
Anthony Saldana (121 articles)
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With Reckless Abandon: UFC Will Bypass COVID-19 Restrictions and Hold Event on Tribal Land in California

By Anthony “Stacks” Saldaña

Since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, the world as we know it has changed forever. On March 4th in California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a “State of Emergency” and then only a few weeks later on March 19th Newsom ordered all 40 million Californians to stay home, venturing outside only for essential jobs, errands, and some exercise. Then last Thursday the California State Athletic Commission announced that all combat sports had been canceled through the end of May because of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. “The commission didn’t take this decision lightly and understands the potential economic loss to promoters and the industry of combative sports,” the governing body stated. “We had to weigh the best interest of our fighters and the community around us.”

Yesterday however it was first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Sherwood that UFC President Dana White is planning to hold the April 18th UFC 249 pay-per-view event at the Tachi Palace Casino and Resort near Lemoore, California, about 40 miles south of Fresno. This unprecedented move by the UFC to hold its upcoming event on tribal land in central California, allows the company to circumvent federal guidelines advising against large gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak. Holding the event on tribal land also allows White and UFC to go around California’s executive order requiring residents to stay home, and the fights on the card will not need to be sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission. 

With athletes in several sports globally contracting the virus in recent months, The decision for the UFC to move forward with their event is questionable at the least. The COVID-19 global pandemic has been a truly heartbreaking and very personal experience for boxer Anthony Yarde and his family, as this deadly virus claimed the life of his Father and Grandmother in a span of six days. After their deaths, Yarde went to social media pleading with the public to stay home. “We have now lost my Nanna to this virus. My dad and his mother have passed days apart. It’s serious! People are still going out when they don’t need to. I know there’s a lot of opinions about COVID-19 and I have mine but I just know opinions ain’t worth risking your life and others. Just stay home.”

This writer recently spoke with one of boxing’s most powerful figures, CEO and founder of Top Rank, Bob Arum who stated Dana White “should be ashamed of himself” for circumventing the laws in place to keep people safe during this pandemic. “look the fighters need to be tested and these tests are for people that really need them, not those participating in this sports event.  This is a combat sport and people get hurt, just like in boxing and if a fighter gets hurt and hospitalized that’s very unfair to our medical professionals who are really taxed. On top of that, you need ambulances if you’re going to do a combat event and those ambulances are really occupied transporting sick patients to hospitals, and they shouldn’t have to be concerned with helping a hurt fighter. That’s why at a time like this you don’t do what Dana is trying to do, it’s really unnecessary.” In January during the inception of COVID-19, Arum found himself making the decision to cancel the championship fight between the unified WBC, WBO Super Lightweight Champion Jose Ramirez, and Viktor Postol. A decision that in hindsight may have saved several lives. “Once I heard that it was a deadly virus I understood the ramifications of it. I knew people could get sick and stuck over there, and even if they didn’t get seriously ill, they’d be quarantined and all of that. I wasn’t going to put the camera crew, the staff, the fighters and even myself in that situation.” Stated Arum. When asked about future Top Rank events Arum said “Again we checked with the Commission and we have to test fighter and that’s wrong to do. I’m not going to tie up medical doctors if there’s an injury, and Vegas-like other cities have a shortage of hospital beds, so I immediately decided I’m not going to do it.”

At a time that our nation seems to be peaking with daily deaths and increased cases of COVID-19, Dana White chooses to gamble with the health and safety of everyone involved in this event. This writer also spoke with promoter and CEO of DiBella Entertainment Lou DiBella about the upcoming UFC cards and he stated “I really don’t like the message it’s sending out. We’re at the Peak of our pandemic and I don’t think it’s appropriate right now. Not going to condemn them for it, I just disagree and it’s not a decision I would make.” The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci recently stated he doesn’t understand why every state hasn’t issued stay-at-home orders as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the US. “I don’t understand why that’s not happening. For the next 30 days, this is what we believe every American in every state should be doing, at a minimum, to slow the spread.”  

Although California has an executive “stay at home” order in place and the UFC is clearly non-essential, White chooses to move forward despite objections from doctors and public health officials. Now it’s just a matter of time to see if the county and state officials will step in, even though this event is being staged on sovereign tribal land. As far as fighter safety and reiterating on what Bob Arum mentioned, putting on a full fight card this size requires several personnel members, production staff, referees, judges, medical staff, coaches, officials, and fighters. On top of that the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, California is the only Level 1 trauma center within a three-hour drive of the Tachi Palace Casino Resort. 

White has recently said the UFC 249 event will be just the beginning and that he plans to stage bouts for at least two months at the same site, as well as others perhaps as early as May on a private island, for fighters from other countries who might have trouble entering the United States.

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Anthony Saldana