The Possible Location Options for UFC 249
UFC President Dana White has been defiant in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, insisting that the stacked UFC 249 card will go down April 18 as originally planned. Whether that's because he wants to "get some normalcy back" during this turbulent time in human history or because of financial implications, he's not backing down.
Yet the UFC boss faces a major hurdle on his mission: He needs to figure out where the heck this massive night of fights will happen.
The event, which was expected to be topped by a lightweight title fight between champ Khabib Nurmagomedov and challenger Tony Ferguson (which now seems nearly impossible with Nurmagomedov stuck in Russia) was supposed to emanate from Brooklyn, New York. But not long after Governor Andrew Cuomo put the kibosh on large public gatherings in the Empire State, the New York State Athletic Commission announced that it would not be sanctioning UFC 249.
Ever since, the location of the card has been a mystery. Not even Nurmagomedov, the biggest star on the bill, has been kept in the loop.
White has conceded that the event will have to go down sans fans but is still insistent that it will happen, divulging that he has "four or five locations" on the table. Yet as the days between now and April 18 disappear, the lack of clarity is starting to worry fight fans hoping for a fix in a few weeks' time.
So in the interest of fanning the flames of hope, let's take a look at a few locations that still seem possible for UFC 249.
Florida might be the most likely setting for UFC 249.
Steven Marrocco of MMA Fighting recently reported that the UFC has been in talks to move UFC 249 to the Sunshine State—potentially to Orlando, Tampa or Jacksonville.
Despite the pandemic, Florida hosted a fight card quite recently. On March 21, Combat Night MMA promoted an event in the emptied-out Morocco Shrine Center in Jacksonville.
Until very recently, Las Vegas was the front-runner to host all of the UFC's relocated events—UFC 249 included.
The promotion recently unveiled a sprawling new facility in Sin City, UFC Apex, which is outfitted with everything required to run a closed-door, broadcast-only fight card—a cage, cameras, lighting, you name it. White made no secret of the fact that this was his plan.
Unfortunately for the UFC boss, the Nevada Athletic Commission ruled otherwise:
"In the interests of the health and safety of the public in regards to the COVID-19 virus, the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) has ordered the cancellation of all programs of unarmed combat within the State of Nevada scheduled to take place on or between March 14, 2020 through its March 25, 2020 meeting."
To make matters worse, the commission's planned March 25 meeting, which likely would have determined whether UFC 249 could occur in Nevada, was postponed because of the threat of the pandemic.
In other words, UFC 249 won't be happening in Nevada unless the commission meets and decides to end its temporary ban on combat sports soon. While that's possible in the age of video conferencing, it seems unlikely.
The United Arab Emirates
Two members of Khabib Nurmagomedov's team have suggested UFC 249 could go down somewhere in the United Arab Emirates.
The champ's father, Abdulmanap, suggested both Dubai and Abu Dhabi as possible host cities.
"Most likely it will be Dubai," he told Russian outlet RBC Sports (h/t Jim Sheridan of The Sun). "Firstly, it's easier to fight diseases because of the heat. And I think the Emirates will pay for the UFC fight faster and easier. Abu Dhabi may well be, but then, [that's up to] Dana White. I can't approve, but there are more chances there."
Not long thereafter, Nurmagomedov's head coach also pointed to Abu Dhabi.
"I do see a probable scenario, like Khabib's father said, and that's fighting in Abu Dhabi," Javier Mendez told The Sun. "We haven't been prepared for it but if that's where it goes it makes sense."
As Nurmagomedov's father and coach suggest, the UAE could be a suitable host for UFC 249. The UFC is in the midst of a partnership with Abu Dhabi, so the requisite business relationships and infrastructure are probably already in place. The UAE is also comparatively close to Russia, where Nurmagomedov is training. It would probably be easier for him to get there than, say, Florida—if he's allowed to leave Russia.
Yet the possibility of a fight in the UAE seems unlikely; the country is ramping up its fight against COVID-19 with new restrictions. That means that most fighters on the UFC 249 bill, Nurmagomedov included, will most likely be unable to make it there.
This suggestion is made partly in jest and partly because of the shortage of other options. If the UFC really wants to make UFC 249 happen, it might have to set up shop somewhere outside the jurisdiction of any nation: international waters.
Without an understanding of maritime law, it's hard to say whether a fight card on a boat is possible. But UFC commentator Joe Rogan recently suggested exactly that, so maybe it is doable.
Rogan broached the idea on a recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience, suggesting UFC 249 could occur on a naval vessel. Apparently, he even communicated this plan to White.
"I told Dana you should do it on a battleship—just do it on a battleship on international waters," Rogan said. "Fly everybody in on helicopters. ... You don't need very many people. You just need the fighters."
It's a long shot, but you know what they say about desperate times.
This is a possibility we need to brace ourselves for, fight fans.
Despite White's dogged determination to make UFC 249 happen, there's a chance he will fail.
Countless other sports organizations have been forced to temporarily close up shop to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, and White might need to accept that this is the UFC's destiny too.
As a matter of fact, it seems like White might be bracing for that possibility himself. Take a look at how the language he's using when he talks about UFC 249 has changed.
"Khabib and Tony is going to happen," White said during a March 18 interview with TSN. "We're going to make it happen."
In an interview with Yahoo Sports on March 28, he said: "I'm gonna try to pull off Tony vs. Khabib on April 18."
Did you catch that? Just 10 days after assuring fans the card will happen, the UFC boss is promising to try to make it happen.
If that doesn't signify dwindling confidence in the face of overwhelming adversity, what does?
Hopefully White and the UFC can find a location for UFC 249 that is suitable for their broadcast plans and, more importantly, safe for fighters and staff. Yet as travel restrictions continue to tighten and more and more countries impose lockdowns in an effort to combat the pandemic, we would all be wise to prepare for the fact that this card's hosting might be impossible.