It was a little over a decade ago, just a few days from when 2009 rolled into 2010, that Dana White made one of his boldest and most bombastic claims.
Even back then, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship was known for talking big, but this was a doozy.
“UFC will be the biggest sport in the world,” White told the Las Vegas Sun. When? “By 2020.”
Well, 2020 is here, and is already locked in as a year we will never forget. And, over the next couple of months, there is a chance that White’s prediction, in a certain sense and partly by default, will come true.
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For in the absence of virtually every other form of meaningful athletic competition, the UFC appears set to not only resume combat but to actually ramp up its event schedule. For a while, at least, the UFC may become the biggest sport on earth, because all others have their gates locked and bolted.
Plenty of people think the UFC should also have its doors closed until the COVID-19 crisis reaches a more manageable level. White, needless to say, is not one of them. Ever since three of his organisation’s events were called off due to public safety fears and state athletic commission enforcement, he has sought an alternative.
As of now, it seems he has found one. According to independent mixed martial arts journalist Jeff Sherwood and a later report by The New York Times, near Lemoore, Calif., about 45 minutes’ drive south of Fresno.
The casino has been closed for the past three weeks. However, because it is on Native American-protected land belonging to the Tachi-Yokut tribe, it is bound by neither California’s official stay-at-home order nor the auspices of the California State Athletic Commission, which has blocked all fight events until June.
“This place where this fight is going to be on Apr. 18, I have locked up for two months, so I’m going to continue to pump fights out,” White told ESPN.
The Apr. 18 date is when White plans to stage UFC 249, a significant pay-per-view card that was originally poised to be headlined by the long-awaited showdown between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. With Nurmagomedov stuck in Russia due to a border lockdown, Ferguson will now take on big-hitting Justin Gaethje, part of a 12-fight bout sheet.
For fights that were due to be held internationally, White claims to have secured a private island, possibly in international waters. where fighters can be flown in and out and where sanctioning issues would presumably be moot.