Apr 8, 2020 - Sports

UFC wants to host fight on tribal land to avoid coronavirus restrictions

Kendall Baker, author of Sports

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In an attempt to skirt federal and state guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, the UFC plans to hold its April 18 pay-per-view event on tribal land in California, per multiple reports.

The state of play: Even as the rest of the sports world hits pause, UFC president Dana White has remained adamant that fights must go on, and appears to have settled for a shutdown casino in a state with the fourth-most confirmed cases of coronavirus.

  • That relentlessness could ultimately be a boon for business (UFC 249 will be available on ESPN+), but it also paints him as somewhat of a villain, willing to bend the rules and go to extreme lengths to ensure fighters can keep punching each other on camera and making him money.

The location: Tachi Palace Casino Resort, which is about 40 miles south of Fresno and sits on land belonging to the Tachi-Yokut tribe.

  • The loophole: By holding UFC 249 on tribal land, the UFC isn't subject to California's stay-at-home order and fights don't need to be sanctioned by the state's athletic commission, which has canceled all bouts through May 31.
  • The headliners: The event will feature 12 fights, headlined by the interim lightweight championship between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, who is replacing Khabib Nurmagomedov (unable to travel from Russia).
  • The island: White also claims he's secured a private island to stage events with international fighters who can't travel to the U.S.

The backdrop: The Association of Ringside Physicians has urged the suspension of all combat sports, which could impede the UFC's attempt to hire ringside doctors.

"Any combat sport taking place during this global pandemic places the athletes, officials, and anyone else involved in the event under unnecessary risk of infection .... In addition, combat sports athletes often require medical attention after a bout, and we do not wish to see any additional strain on an already overwhelmed medical system."
— Association of Ringside Physicians statement

Go deeper: No one knows when the coronavirus sports shutdown will end

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