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UFC events to move forward, but with some tweaks amid coronavirus pandemic

Dana White speaks during the press conference after

Dana White speaks during the press conference after the UFC Fight Night event at Madison Square Garden on Nov 2, 2019 in New York. Credit: Anna Sergeeva

As professional and college sports organizations suspended or canceled upcoming events and seasons in the past 24 hours amid the coronavirus pandemic, UFC fans awaited word on what would happen with the next few fight cards. Would they still take place? Will fans be allowed to attend? Will they move venues?

Most of those answers came Thursday night.

"We're moving forward with all our UFC live events, but we're going to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances," UFC president Dana White said in a video message posted on the promotion's website.

Saturday's UFC event in Brasilia, Brazil, will be held without fans in attendance. It will now air on the ESPN network as well as stream on ESPN+. The start time was moved up from 5 p.m. Eastern to 3 p.m. The card, headlined by a lightweight fight between Kevin Lee and Charles Oliveira, will be held at the Nilson Nelson Gymnasium in Brasilia. On Wednesday, there were two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Brasilia, the nation's capital and Governor Ibaneis Rocha later announced that gatherings of a large number of people will be suspended until March 16.

UFC is next scheduled to host an event in London on March 21, headlined by the return of former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley against Leon Edwards. On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump issued sharp travel restrictions between the United States and most of Europe for the next 30 days, with the exception of the United Kingdom. White said that event will go on as scheduled.

UFC's March 28 event, headlined by a heavyweight fight between Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, was moved from Columbus, Ohio, to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. UFC's April 11 event also was moved to the UFC Apex from Portland, Oregon. Both Ohio and Oregon have issued bans on large public gatherings as states continue to do their part to help contain and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Both of those events will proceed without fans in attendance.

"You know I hate this, but the decision has been made in the best interest of everyone involved with our events, including fans, athletes, staff and media partners," White said about having to keep the fans away from these live events.

These events will now air on ESPN as well as stream on ESPN+, as well the UFC's media partners across the globe.

White said on ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Thursday night that the UFC is working with the Nevada State Athletic Commission to make sure the fighters are screened for the coronavirus for the two events in Las Vegas.

"We're going to make sure two healthy athletes are competing and these guys are good to go," White said.

Tickets purchased for the events in Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Oregon, can be refunded at the point of purchase.The question of UFC 249 in Brooklyn, scheduled for April 18, was not addressed Thursday night.

Earlier on Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned gatherings with 500 people or more in New York, effective as of 5 p.m. Friday. For Broadway shows, the ban began Thursday at 5 p.m. 

New York Sports