A highly anticipated Ultimate Fighting Championship event, UFC 249, scheduled to take place on April 18 has been postponed after the organization was told to “stand down” by ESPN and parent company Disney.
“Today, we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level of ESPN,” UFC President Dana White told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto in an interview Thursday. “And the powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday.”
White had previously said UFC 249 could proceed on an unidentified private island he was looking to secure that he has referred to as “fight island.”
ESPN said in a statement that it “has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249.”
“Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons. ESPN expressed its concerns to the UFC and they understood,” the network added.
The event had been expected to be staged in New York and broadcast on ESPN+, but the coronavirus pandemic forced UFC to look for an alternative location.
“We will be the first sport back. Fight island is real,” White said Thursday. “It’s a real thing. The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen. And it will be on ESPN.”
Dana White to @bokamotoESPN: “We will be the first sport back. Fight island is real. It’s a real thing. The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen. And it will be on ESPN.”
— Shaheen Al-Shatti (@shaunalshatti) April 9, 2020
Disney did not immediately reply to requests for comment from The Hill.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpCalifornia governor praises Trump’s efforts to help state amid coronavirus crisis Trump threatens to withhold visas for countries that don’t quickly repatriate citizens Trump admin looks to cut farmworker pay to help industry during pandemic: report MORE held a conference call with the commissioners of major U.S. sports leagues on Saturday, with Trump saying he hopes to have fans back at venues by late summer or early fall.
“They want to get back,” Trump said of the sports leagues at a subsequent coronavirus task force briefing. “They’ve got to get back. They can’t do this. Their sports weren’t designed for it. The whole concept of our nation wasn’t designed for it. We have to get back. We want to get back soon.”
Worldwide, most major sports competitions have been canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus. Other sports events are being altered to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
The NFL draft, scheduled to take place in Las Vegas from April 23-25, will be held virtually. The league said this month it is planning to start its regular season in early September as scheduled and play the games in front of fans.