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UFC cancels its next three events due to coronavirus outbreak

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

The UFC has postponed its next three events because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

UFC president Dana White announced the move to indefinitely postpone events scheduled for this Saturday, March 28 and April 11, saying the promotion was put in a bind by President Trump's Monday recommendation to avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more.

"Now they're saying there should be no more than 10 in a room, and that's impossible, we can't do it," White said on ESPN.

White first announced the news to UFC employees in a letter obtained by multiple news outlets.

"We did everything we could to relocate our next three events – London, Columbus, and Portland. But every day, there are new restrictions put in place on travel and large public gatherings that are making it impossible to stay on schedule," the letter read. "We can’t even hold an event in Vegas, our home town, because there’s a ban on all combat sports events in Nevada until at least March 25."

White said UFC 249 is still scheduled as planned for April 19 at Barclays Center, but the location may be changed. The event is scheduled to be headlined by a lightweight title bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.On Monday, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced a limit on gatherings of 50 people or more, and the CDC recommended limiting large gatherings through mid-May.

The UFC remained one of the few organizations in sports attempting to operate business as usual, but that became an increasingly difficult prospect entering fight week for UFC Fight Night 171. Originally scheduled for this Saturday in London, the event remained entirely up in the air without a venue to host it, a fight to headline it and a full fight card to put on until it finally was banned Monday.

The UFC had planned to relocate the March 28 and April 11 events to its own Apex facility in Las Vegas without fans, but a Saturday decision by the Nevada Athletic Commission revoked all mixed martial arts licenses until March 25 and put future events in doubt.

Last week, UFC president Dana White was insistent his business would continue normal operations during the crisis, but a UFC statement Sunday said its next event would be relocated because of travel restrictions and “rapidly changing circumstances in the U.K.”

A new venue never was announced, and in the time before the card's cancellation, almost every fighter was scrapped from the card, many of those from Europe and unable to travel to the United States. Among them was Leon Edwards, a British welterweight who was supposed to face former champion Tyron Woodley in the night’s main event.

“We have been working with the UFC on possible solutions to keep the fight alive, but unfortunately with such a short window of time, nothing was viable,” Edwards wrote in a social media post. “Myself and my team are all fathers, husbands, sons and brothers, and not all of us can leave our families right now.”

At least one fight originally on the card still will happen, but on a different night in the cage of a different promotion. Wales’ John Phillips and Serbia’s Dusko Todorovic will now meet Friday during an event without fans by Cage Warriors, a European regional promotion that broadcasts on UFC Fight Pass. According to a tweet by Cage Warriors president Graham Boylan, a second bout has been moved to the card, but no details were given.

On Sunday, the UFC reportedly emailed managers and representatives around the country seeking short-notice replacements for its own card. Woodley remained intent on fighting until the event's cancellation. Former welterweight title challenger Colby Covington had publicly thrown his hat into the ring for the fight. Former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos reportedly also was interested in the bout.

Last Saturday’s UFC event in Brasilia, Brazil, was held without fans, one of the few live sporting events of the weekend.

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