'Downright irresponsible': Uproar over UFC's 'disgraceful' act amid crisis

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor
Dana White speaks to the media ahead of UFC 249. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The UFC is copping widespread backlash after confirming UFC 249 will go ahead amid the global coronavirus crisis.

The highly-anticipated fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson has been scrapped for a fifth time, but Justin Gaethje has been confirmed as the man to replace the lightweight champion on April 18.

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The UFC says No.1 contender Ferguson will fight Gaethje for the interim lightweight title in the main event of UFC 249, at a yet to be determined location.

The mixed martial arts promotion announced the main event match-up on Monday.

Gaethje comes in as cover for the unbeaten Nurmagomedov, who is apparently unable to leave Russia during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although UFC President Dana White still hasn't even announced a venue for UFC 249, he remains determined to hold a pay-per-view show this month.

White wrote on Twitter: “The fight is signed and is 100% ON LIVE on ESPN somewhere on EARTH!!!!”

Most US states have restrictions in place that would make it impossible to stage a show, even without an audience.

UFC 249 initially was slated for Brooklyn, but a venue change became necessary several weeks ago.

ESPN, the UFC's broadcast partner, has said White is attempting to secure an unnamed venue on the west coast for the show.

The UFC held a full fight card in an empty arena in Brazil last month but cancelled its ensuing three scheduled shows.

White has remained steadfast in his plan to stage the company's biggest show of the spring while virtually all high-level sports competition has stopped.

UFC under fire over ‘disgraceful’ decision

However his decision to push ahead with UFC 249 amid the crisis has been widely condemned.

As Yahoo Sports combat writer Kevin Iole wrote on Monday: “The risk/reward ratio seems way out of whack.

“The risks of it are extraordinary and, in a worst-case scenario that no one wants to see happen, could ultimately mean lost lives.

“If a member of the UFC traveling party is one of those asymptomatic persons who unknowingly passes COVID-19 on to another person, it puts at risk not just that person but every person that person comes into contact with.

“That means his or her spouse and children, the people they pass in grocery stores and anyone else they may see.

“The US just passed the 10,000 death mark, and Trump has been warning of 100,000-240,000 deaths. That’s a sign of how quickly this spreads.”

Iole pointed out that a number of fighters will undoubtedly need hospital treatment after their bouts, further clogging an already overcrowded system.

“Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed and the government is converting convention centres and the like into hospitals as quickly as they can,” Iole wrote.

“What happens if a fighter is injured and requires hospitalisation? The hospitals are overrun already and is it fair for a fighter who is competing voluntarily and against guidelines to take up hospital space in favour of someone who has COVID-19?”

Iole wasn’t alone in his criticism, with social media blowing up.

With AAP and Yahoo Sports US