Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, UFC President Dana White has been consistent about one thing above all else: the promotion does not want to return to live events, with fans in the arena, until they can pack the house.
White reiterated that stance ahead of UFC 256 this weekend — likely one of the final occasions in which he’ll speak to the media in 2020. “I’m not going into an arena until we can sell out an arena,” the UFC chief insisted. “I’ll stay here.”
Here, of course, is the UFC Apex, where the promotion has holed up since a trio of shows in Florida back in May. It was a stroke of luck that the UFC had its own small arena, used to film Dana White’s Contender Series, when the pandemic struck. Outside of the U.S., it has utilized its relationship with Abu Dhabi, hosting “Fight Island” cards on Yas Island to much fanfare.
There have been stumbles along the way. Positive tests, fights falling through the same day. “We’re always trying to get better at it,” noted White. At the same time, their success rate has arguably been the real story. “You saw the story that came out, we by far have the lowest [COVID-19] positivity rate out of any other sport that’s done it, by a mile. We’re going to continue to do what we do, and get better.”
White isn’t sure about whether the UFC will push for vaccinations, or a return to arenas, at least at the moment. But when that return does come, he expects it to be big. Like everyone else, the UFC President has seen his activities restricted as the epidemic has surged. “There’s a lot of sh*t that I like to go out do too that I’m not doing right now,” he observed. “It’s unfortunate.” At the same time, the potential return could blow the roof off the arena. Whatever arena it might come in.
“I can’t wait until we do get the fans back. Imagine the first one live, when we can actually sell out the arena and sell every seat. It’s going to be special,” White exclaimed. “I think when we finally get fans back, it’s going to be like the first show in Toronto. The first show in New York City. And the list goes on and on. It’s going to be one of those type of events. It’s going to be amazing. I’m looking forward to it.”
That return could come sooner than you might think. The promotion’s next trip to Fight Island remains a possibility to have fans in attendance — though nothing is set in stone.
“What I want to do is go back to Fight Island, and do it Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, with the last Saturday being Conor [McGregor], and do an International Fight Week,” White said Friday.
“That’s what we’re hoping to pull off,” he added. “I don’t know if we can, but that’s the hope.”
The problem, White noted, is that while Abu Dhabi has things “dialed in” when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, bringing in fans from outside the bubble there would be a concern. That said, White does believe that live events with fans in attendance will commence outside the U.S. before fans return stateside.
“Yes. I do. I think so. We could do them right now, if we didn’t have to quarantine for two weeks,” White suggested. The two week quarantine required by pandemic protocols is a complication that amounts to a deal-breaker. “We can’t go do an event somewhere, sell it out, then have quarantine everybody for two weeks. That we can’t do.”
“We have fights every Saturday normally. It would be very hard to do, especially with our staff, officials, the list goes on and on,” White added.
The UFC President was also asked Friday about the recent class certification that the antitrust lawsuit against the promotion was granted — what many see as a serious blow to the company. White, however, responded that he was not concerned. “Not even a little bit. It concerns me so much that I don’t even know anything about it.”