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UFC's Fight Island Will Be Operational by June, Says Dana White

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2020

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2019, file photo, UFC President Dana White speaks at a news conference in New York. UFC 249 has been canceled after ESPN and parent company Disney stopped White's plan to keep fighting amid the coronavirus pandemic. After defiantly vowing for weeks to maintain a regular schedule of fights, White announced the decision to cease competition Thursday, April 9, on ESPN, the UFC's broadcast partner. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File)
Gregory Payan/Associated Press

UFC president Dana White said Friday that the conceptual "Fight Island" is expected to be up and running in the near future. 

According to ESPN's Brett Okamoto, White said Fight Island will be ready to go by June, complete with an Octagon on the beach and hotels for the fighters. White also noted that the island will likely be retired whenever the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

Fight Island is something White has talked about often in recent weeks, and per Tim Burke of Bloody Elbow, he told Okamoto on Instagram Live that it will allow UFC to arrange fights for international fighters during the pandemic.

During the conversation with Okamoto, White said UFC plans to hold events on May 9, 13 and 16. It was later confirmed by UFC that the fights will take place in Jacksonville, Florida.

UFC has attempted on multiple occasions to hold cards during the COVID-19 pandemic but has been unable to do so thus far. Most recently, UFC 249, which was to be headlined first by Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov and then by Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje on April 18, was called off just over one week ahead of time.

White said the decision was made to postpone the event after people from the "highest level" of Disney and ESPN asked him not to proceed.

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Shortly after the plug was pulled on UFC 249, White went to work on rescheduling it. Okamoto reported earlier this week that it had been rescheduled for May 9 under the same UFC 249 name.

The full card for the proposed UFC 249 event was announced earlier Friday. It will be headlined by Ferguson-Gaethje and a bantamweight matchup between Henry Cejudo and Dominick Cruz. A heavyweight bout between No. 2 contender Francis Ngannou and No. 6 Jairzinho Rozenstruik will also feature on the card.

It is still far from guaranteed that UFC 249 will take place after a previous cancellation, but UFC is clearly moving forward with a plan to make it happen. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declaring that sporting companies with a national audience such as WWE are essential should help UFC's cause, however.

Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry and the executive director of the Florida State Boxing Commission, Patrick Cunningham both said in the UFC's announcement they welcome the chance to host the upcoming events.

There is no telling how much longer stay-at-home orders will remain in effect and large gatherings will be banned in the United States due to the coronavirus, but if they are still months away from being repealed, White is wise to make contingency plans.

Fight Island sounds like a far-fetched fantasy idea on the surface, but anything that allows UFC to put on shows is worth exploring from a business perspective.

Given the sheer novelty of Fight Island, any card that takes place there in June and beyond figures to draw plenty of attention and pay-per-view buys from both hardcore fight fans and those who are interested in seeing what MMA on a beach looks like.

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