UFC 249 cancelled due to coronavirus after ESPN and Disney step in

UFC president White loses battle to stage event saying pressure had come from 'the highest level'

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - September 06, 2019: UFC president Dana White speaks to local media. Friday the 6th of September 2019. Yes Island, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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UFC 249 has been cancelled after broadcaster ESPN and parent company Disney overruled on the sport's defiant push to keep fighting during the coronavirus pandemic.

UFC president Dana White said a decision had come from "the highest level" at Disney on Thursday for the sport to cease through the Covid-19 crisis.

Originally, UFC 249 was due to take place in Brooklyn with a lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov on April 18.

As the pandemic hit, the bout was re-scheduled for California, before a determined White was forced to search for another location, saying it would take place "somewhere on Earth".

This was despite the fact Nurmagomedov had to withdraw since he was not allowed to travel, with Justin Gaethje brought in as his replacement.

However, on Thursday White was finally forced to abandon the plan. “I was ready to go on Saturday, but Disney and ESPN asked me to step down,” White told the Associated Press. “I love and respect my partnership with them so I postponed the event.”

In an interview with ESPN, the event's pay-per-view host, he said: "I told you this whole thing has been a battle since day one.

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

White also revealed the ultimately scheduled host for the event, saying the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, located on Native American land some 200 miles north-west of Los Angeles, "had our back this whole time".

"Let me tell you this, when the world gets back to normal the California event will be at Tachi Palace," he said.

"I'm doing a fight there, I'm bringing them a big fight and I appreciate them standing with me in this thing."

White added he wanted all his contracted fighters "to feel safe". “Take time with your families and enjoy this time. Don’t worry about the financial part of this. You’re going to get the fights on your contract, and I’m going to make things right with the people who were willing to step up and fight next weekend. I’m going to take care of as many people as I possibly can.”

White also told the company’s employees: “Nobody is getting laid off at the UFC. Everybody is good.”