UFC chief Dana White
UFC chief Dana White Image Credit: AP

Dubai: With UFC 249 now officially cancelled and future events postponed, the fighting world has rallied around the franchise’s dynamic promoter, Dana White, and lauded him for his efforts to keep the sport alive and kicking in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tony Ferguson, who was scheduled to headline the event in an interim lightweight title fight with fellow American Justin Gaethje, led the positive reactions, saying he was still going to keep the “faith”.

“You know what? I’m sure it’s for a good reason,” he told The Orange County Register.

“Let’s be real. I gotta keep the faith. I gotta keep this small circle close, bro, and just keep focusing on what we can control, which is our heart rate and our breathing.

“Opponent switch was something different, but I’ve been surrounding myself with the same people. Nothing’s changed. Family’s good, man. Everything’s good.”

White first broke the news of the cancellation in a statement to the Associated Press and followed it up in an interview with ESPN, the UFC’s official broadcaster, who had together with UFC’s parent company, Disney, had pulled the plug on the event.

“This whole thing has been a battle since Day 1,” said White. “We’ve been fighting all day and all night since this pandemic started to put on this event on April 18. Today (Thursday) we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney and the highest level of ESPN.

“The powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday.”

Ferguson, who was originally meant to fight reigning champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title, remained upbeat.

“Oh well, I’m still gonna train,” Ferguson said in the interview with OC. “I’m just gonna keep collecting trophies and doing my same things I do every single time I wake up in the morning, when I do my work, say my prayers and I do [stuff], I hug my little boy, kiss my wife. I just keep doing what I’m doing. What am I gonna do?

“The constant is things are always gonna change. The variable is how am I gonna react to it? So we could throw that variable, baby, and we make that the constant.

“Which is why I’m gonna keep smiling, I’m gonna keep training, and you know what? I’m gonna put on some muscle. Dude, I’m skinny. I’m gonna put on some muscle. I’m gonna try my best, I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna try my best. If I fall, I’ll get back up.”

Michelle Kuehn

Meanwhile, two Dubai-based combat sports professionals were divided in their reactions to White’s attempts to push on with UFC 249.

Michelle Kuehn, Managing Director of Real Boxing Only, had this to say: “I think it was irresponsible by UFC and Dana White to put this event on in April.

“The outbreak is continuing to increase especially in the UK, EU and the USA and probably (for) another three months. To encourage large groups of people in a venue when the virus is still spreading, at a rapid rate and destroying countries, this is not how you lead in your industry, this is the opposite.

“I love rebels, think outside of the box types and against the groove (individuals) but not in a global pandemic when people’s families are at the forefront fighting and risking their lives to save the world. (What he is doing is) reckless and shows no respect for the sport or the world.

“The boxing industry isn’t even looking at their big fights until June, that’s still not even confirmed. “

Tam Khan

However, Tam Khan, MMA pioneer, founder of TK Fitness and actor, had a different view.

“I think Dana White is doing the right thing,” he said. “In a time of doom and gloom, he is looking to entertain the people. Sometimes you need escapism from the reality and hardships of life and this event is just that.

“This was going to be a historic event. Let’s not forget these fighters also live on these wages so it’s allowing them a chance to also survive and look artery their families,” added Khan, a former British Ultimate Warrior Challenge (UWC).

“I think it’s a great move and all other sports will take note and copy the blueprint.

“Dana copied the WWE and Vince McMahon blueprint and that was a success. So should this be.”

Earlier this year, Dubai-based Khan made his big-screen debut in the Jackie Chan blockbuster, Vanguard.