UFC 249: Event cancelled over coronavirus concerns

Despite the best efforts of UFC president Dana White, UFC 249 event has been cancelled, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

After relentlessly pushing forward with the event schedule in the middle of the crisis, White's hand was finally forced, announcing all future events have been indefinitely put on hold or cancelled. 

The pay-per-view event was set to take place on April 19 (NZ time) at Tachi Palace Casino Resort on tribal land in California.

But White received a call from the "the highest level" of both Disney and ESPN, effectively lowering the boom on his plans.

Disney owns ESPN, which is the UFC's broadcast partner. 

"Today, we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney and the highest level at ESPN," White told ESPN. "The powers that be there asked me to stand down and not do this event on Saturday." 

In a statement, the UFC said it "looks forward to resuming live events as soon as possible". 

The announcement came hours after former women's strawweight champion Rose Namajunas pulled out of the card, because of two coronavirus deaths in her family.

Rose Namajunas.
Rose Namajunas. Photo credit: Getty

"[Rose Namajunas] withdrew from UFC 249 due to two deaths in the family, related to the coronavirus," announced the American's management team.

"Her hopes are to return to the Octagon as soon as possible, but for now, we ask for people to respect their privacy during this time." 

The 27-year-old was set to feature in a highly anticipated rematch with Brazilian Jessica Andrade, who won their previous meeting 11 months ago.

Earlier this week, Khabib Nurmagomedov was the first big name to drop off the fight card, when he was unable to leave Russia, due to the country's coronavirus travel ban.  

Just before White broke the cancellation news, California Senator Dianne Feinstein said she was "concerned" about the possibility of the UFC hosting the event at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort.

"I'm concerned by reports that Ultimate Fighting Championship plans to hold a pay-per-view event in California, in defiance of the state's shelter-in-place order," Feinstein said. 

"This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a purpose no-one can honestly claim is essential.

"I understand this event is scheduled to take place on tribal land and therefore is not subject to state law. However, at best, this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted. 

"At worst, participants and support staff could carry the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread."