UFC's Dana White on Holding Fights Amid Pandemic: 'Somebody Has to Be First'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2020

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 18: UFC President Dana White speaks to the media during the UFC 246 event at T-Mobile Arena on January 18, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Chris Unger/Getty Images

UFC president Dana White defended his decision to bring the company back for UFC 249 on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida. 

In an interview with Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel, White said UFC isn't returning to live action purely for financial reasons and that those inside the company are eager to resume their work:

"Nobody wants to be first, man. Nobody wants to be first and take that chance. We're talking about fighters who want to go in and want to compete. Everybody who is involved in this event wants to be involved in this event. From my employees on up. [...]

"Somebody has to be first. And the one thing about us is, we've always been willing to spend money and go overboard to make sure everything is safe. So you can imagine what we are doing for this one."

UFC hasn't staged a major event since UFC Fight Night 170 on March 14, which took place inside an empty arena in Brasilia, Brazil.

The company encountered a number of problems in lining up the logistics for UFC 249 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, the New York State Athletic Commission didn't officially sanction the pay-per-view, forcing UFC to find a new location. After securing a different venue, Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, California, White was forced to backtrack after California officials, Disney and ESPN all intervened.

White made it clear to ESPN's Brett Okamoto on April 9 he still intended for UFC to "be the first sport back."

ESPN MMA @espnmma

UFC President Dana White spoke to Brett Okamoto about #UFC249 no longer taking place on April 18. (via @bokamotoESPN) https://t.co/VRP5jL3k9J

WWE has continued to operate out of its Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, but few would probably classify it in the same group as UFC and the four major U.S. sports leagues (the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB).

WWE was allowed to keep broadcasting its shows from Orlando because Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis exempted pro sports as "essential services," thus allowing employees to travel despite ongoing stay-at-home orders.

That in turn helped pave the way for UFC to lease out Jacksonville's VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena for UFC 249 and two more shows on May 13 and 16.

In a statement, UFC said fighters and employees would be subjected to "advanced medical screenings and temperature checks" before they were allowed to work.