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Report: California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked Disney to shut down UFC 249

In his relentless effort to keep fights going during the coronavirus pandemic, UFC president Dana White settled on tribal land in California as a location. What that meant was the promotion didn’t have to worry about a statewide stay-at-home order from Gov. Gavin Newsom since the venue – Tachi...

In his relentless effort to keep fights going during the coronavirus pandemic, UFC president Dana White settled on tribal land in California as a location. What that meant was the promotion didn’t have to worry about a statewide stay-at-home order from Gov. Gavin Newsom since the venue – Tachi Palace Casino Resort outside of Fresno – is exempt from such orders.

White, in essence, found a way around Newsom. Newsom, it appears, did not take that lightly – and found a way to counter White and the UFC.

On Thursday, White announced that UFC 249 and future scheduled events have been indefinitely suspended. White made it clear that the decision was made not by his own judgment, but at the urging of the promotion’s broadcast partner.

“ESPN has been an amazing partner to us since Day 1, and them asking me to stand down, there’s no way I wouldn’t not do it,” White said.

The question is: Why did ESPN ask White to stand down?

According to The New York Times, it’s because of Newsom. The newspaper, citing three people familiar with the matter, reports that state officials intervened by directly expressing concerns to Disney, the parent company of ESPN. The Times reports that Newsom himself made a call to Disney, whose studio headquarters are in Burbank, and requested that executives stop the UFC’s plan to host consecutive weeks worth of events at Tachi Palace.

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The message registered.

“We got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney and the highest level of ESPN,” White said. “One thing that I’ve said since we started our relationship and partnership with ESPN – and it’s been an incredible one, it’s been an amazing partnership. ESPN has been very, very good to us, and the powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event next Saturday.”

So White acquiesced. And now the UFC – like virtually every major sports league on earth for the past month – is shut down indefinitely while COVID-19 continues to spread. As of Thursday night, 1.6 million cases of the virus have been documented worldwide, resulting in almost 96,000 deaths. The U.S. accounts for nearly 470,000 cases and 17,000 deaths.

With those numbers rising in recent weeks, White still remained set on hosting events. UFC 249 lost its original main event after lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov withdrew because of a travel ban in his native Russia, but that didn’t stop White. He found a replacement this week in Justin Gaethje to fight Tony Ferguson for the interim 155-pound title.

After making the cancellation announcement, White remained defiant – and hinted that he had a backup plan to his backup plan.

“Everybody said that I couldn’t do this. I could. I could go next Saturday. And if anything happened in California where I couldn’t, I have another place right now, with an athletic commission and the governor, and everybody is behind it. I can go April 18; let’s make that clear,” White said. “But, I don’t crack to pressure. When people start coming after me – people have been coming after me for 20 years. I’m used to it, and I don’t care. I don’t care what people think. People don’t know what we do here, and they don’t even try to know. …

“You’re going to have people that have these opinions. Some are going to be on this side, some are going to be on that side. I don’t crack to that stuff. But it doesn’t mean that other people won’t crack to it. I don’t. I could still go Saturday. I could go do this event. I’m sure ESPN would let me do it on Fight Pass. But ESPN doesn’t want me to do it. They’re my partners, they’ve been nothing but amazing to me.”

Marcos Rogerio de Lima accepts Marcin Tybura’s callout, targets summer showdown

Marcos Rogerio de Lima likes the idea of facing Marcin Tybura next. Tybura called out de Lima after his unanimous decision win over Serghei Spivak at UFC on ESPN+ 27, and the Brazilian says he has accepted his offer. “I want to take advantage of the fact that Marcin...

Marcos Rogerio de Lima likes the idea of facing Marcin Tybura next.

Tybura called out de Lima after his unanimous decision win over Serghei Spivak at UFC on ESPN+ 27, and the Brazilian says he has accepted his offer.

“I want to take advantage of the fact that Marcin Tybura challenged me,” de Lima told MMA Junkie. “He’s an excellent fighter, he’s aggressive, he has good jiu-jitsu – it’s a great test for me. As with many other fighters in our weight class, I see myself as being faster, and more explosive. I deliver a greater volume of strikes, and I enjoy fighting. He likes to stall a little – not me. I like to start the fight right away. It’s an excellent fight for me.

“We hope that the UFC and the world itself can get back to normal soon. I think if we could meet between June and August, that would be excellent. We hope the UFC can start booking people again. We can’t wait forever. We get paid only when we fight. Money is running out. We’ve got to fight.”

The fight with Tybura (18-6 MMA, 5-5 UFC) almost materialized in 2017, when de Lima (17-6-1 MMA, 6-4 UFC) offered to step in and fight him on short notice, but at the time the Brazilian couldn’t get clearance to compete.

“Actually, I had previously accepted to face Tybura, one week after I fought Jeremy Kimball,” de Lima recalled. “I was uninjured. Tybura’s bout with Luis Henrique ‘KLB’ had been called off. I offered to replace ‘KLB’ on short notice. The only reason that fight didn’t happen was because I dislocated a finger against Kimball, and the athletic commission in Colorado wouldn’t allow it.”

De Lima is coming off a first-round finish over Ben Sosoli in February and has gone 2-1 since his return to heavyweight. He’s currently in Brazil, making the most of training during this coronavirus outbreak, but is eager to get back to action soon.

“I’m doing everything I can to be ready,” de Lima said. “I want to fight as soon as possible. This pandemic will end soon. I want to be ready to fight. I’ve been working on my wrestling for quite some time. My coach Alireza Noei was the Iranian champion, and also an intercontinental champion. He’s an MMA fighter now. He’s here in Brazil. He’s a big help. That’s what’s new about my game.

“And what I see as my biggest advantage against Tybura is the fact that he likes to take his time. I won’t let him do that. He won’t be able to stand the rhythm I’ll impose on him. I firmly believe this, not just against him, but against 80 percent of the heavyweight stable. My volume of strikes, my speed, and my willpower will always make their lives difficult.”

Reaction video: UFC 249 is postponed, and all future events are suspended. Now what?

nt" At the directive of Disney and ESPN executives, the UFC made the decision Thursday to postpone UFC 249 and all future scheduled events in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic. Although an argument can be made the decision came too late, the plug was finally pulled to...

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At the directive of Disney and ESPN executives, the UFC made the decision Thursday to postpone UFC 249 and all future scheduled events in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Although an argument can be made the decision came too late, the plug was finally pulled to call off the April 18 pay-per-view and beyond, despite extreme reluctance from UFC president Dana White.

The fallout of the UFC temporarily halting its operation is widespread, from fighters to fans to media to UFC staff. There is no guarantee when sports will return as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, but White promises the fight promotion will be “first” back to running events.

How should this major piece of news be digested? MMA Junkie senior reporter Mike Bohn and managing editor Simon Samano react to the UFC event postponements from various angles in the video above.

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