Wednesday afternoon brought clarity to a New York sporting event as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.
The New York State Athletic Commission will not allow UFC 249 to take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 18.
“Out of an abundance of caution and in line with recent guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and New York State, the New York State Athletic Commission informed the UFC that UFC 249 cannot be held in NY,” the commission said in a statement provided to Newsday.
This is the fourth consecutive event the UFC has to adjust. The first three — March 21 in London, March 28 in Ohio and April 11 in Portland — have all been canceled after first trying to reschedule them.
"UFC is planning to move forward with UFC 249: Khabib vs. Ferguson in April," the promotion said in a statement Wednesday night. "The decision was made in accordance with guidance issued by the New York State Athletic Commission, as well as with restrictions by New York State limiting large public gatherings. Additional details, including location and venue, will be announced when confirmed."
This leaves the promotion, the fans and, in particular, the fighters in a state of limbo.
Two years ago, such uncertainty wouldn’t have affected Levittown’s Gian Villante. Things are different now for the 34-year-old who is supposed to make his heavyweight debut against Ben Rothwell. It’s not just him he’s responsible for anymore.
“I don't think I should be leaving my house as much as I am every day. I have a two-month old at home I have to worry about,” said Villante, who became a father to baby boy Gianluca on Christmas morning. “I'm leaving every day like I'm still fighting. Going to the gym, who knows who’s got what, and I don’t know, man, stuff’s scary.
“Having a kid at home with no immune system, he was just born so he's truly defenseless, so I feel like I have to defend him a little bit and not bring anything home with me.”
Gyms are closed to the public. There’s a ban on large gatherings. Social distancing is becoming the norm. There’s nervous energy everywhere as the number of coronavirus infections and deaths rises daily. Villante said that has made it harder to find people to spar or train with beyond his trainer Keith Trimble.
Still, with a month until the scheduled fight at a to-be-determined location — if it happens at all — Villante needs to be prepared.
“What if they cancel the fight last minute, then I have to tell this guy that I made him risk all this for no money?” Villante said. “I'm hoping they at least pay us to make sure that they realize the risk we're taking by them saying this fight’s still going on.”
There are 20-plus other fighters in the same realm of uncertainty, including the main-event fighters in lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and challenger Tony Ferguson.
"I already started the mental process of accepting that there’s definitely going to be a curveball thrown as far as where we’re going to fight," said Lyman Good, a New York City-raised welterweight scheduled to face Belal Muhammad. "I’m prepared for travel. I’m prepared for whatever to happen as far as a relocation of a venue."
Good, 34, needed less than a second to answer if there's a place he would not travel to fight. "No," he said before the question was fully formed.
Good is taking the uncertainty of if, when and where he'll fight next in stride. He said he continues to train and prepare himself to fight on April 18.
“As a fighter, I believe you have to have the mental flexibility to be able to deal with curveballs like that," Good said. "And at the same time it kind of really tests your ability to manage little obstacles along the way, because they do happen, they happen very often as a matter of fact, not necessarily just in this form."
The UFC said Barclays Center ticket holders can seek a full refund at the point of purchase. Internet and phone orders will be automatically cancelled and refunded.