For the last two months, the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the sports world, cancelling nearly all sporting events across the globe. That will change this weekend though as the UFC will return to action this Saturday with UFC 249 and then follow that up with two more events the following week. It’s an ambitious return to action for the worldwide leader in MMA and not everyone is happy about it.
UFC President Dana’s White aggressive return plan for the UFC has drawn criticism from a number of parties, and on the eve of the UFC’s return, boxing promoter and longtime rival Bob Arum has joined the fray, essentially calling White’s actions reckless during this global pandemic.
“Good luck to them,” Arum told BoxingScene.com. “I just hope that they’re not endangering the safety of anyone. But this kind of cowboy behavior doesn’t do anybody any good. . .
“We’re looking now with Nevada, which we’ll do in a sensible way, or California. We’re working with (Nevada’s) Bob Bennett and (California’s) Andy Foster, and we’re talking to the Texas commission. We’re only gonna do this if it’s safe for the fighters and everyone involved, and if it’s approved by the medical authorities. We’re not gonna be cowboys, like Dana White. I don’t wanna get politics involved, but I have really very little respect for Dana and what he’s doing.”
White and Arum have a long history of taking shots in the media at one another, most recently with Arum lambasting White for attempting to keep UFC 249 on schedule despite the coronavirus and myriad setbacks it presented. In that instance, White was ultimately forced to back down after politicians reached out to ESPN and Disney executives and had them intervene, but this time, things appear to be full steam ahead with UFC 249 taking place in Florida, a state that has deemed live sports “essential services.” But just because it’s going to happen and do so with the blessing of the state, doesn’t mean Arum thinks holding fights right now is a good idea. In fact, he’s worried that if something goes wrong, it could well screw things up for everyone.
“I think the behavior of people in sports we should be following,” Arum said. “Are Adam Silver of the NBA, Roger Goodell of the NFL, people who are proceeding cautiously and safely, not people who are acting like cowboys. For example, [the UFC] wanted to do this fight in California and they were prevented by the governor [Gavin Newsom], and by senator [Dianne] Feinstein going to ESPN and having Dana pull [the plug].
“It turned out one of the fighters, in fact, tested positive afterwards for coronavirus. You know, if we get something like that on one of Dana’s shows, and God forbid there’s a serious incident of spreading the disease, it doesn’t do well for anybody who’s involved with sports.”
Arum is referencing Lyman Good who withdrew from UFC 249 due to injury but later revealed it was actually a result of coronavirus. A fighter contracting coronavirus and competing at a UFC event would be the worst case scenario but Dana White has been adamant that the UFC has been taking extreme precautions to combat the spread of COVID-19, which includes testing, minimum exposure, and maximum isolation.
But Bob Arum does not speak for the whole of the boxing world. In fact, one of Arum’s chief promotional rivals, Oscar De La Hoya, is ready to praise White for his efforts, even despite their own turbulent background.
“I commend and respect Dana,” De La Hoya told Brian Campbell. “We did have our differences. When I wanted to get involved with the MMA, and I did Chuck Liddell (vs.) Tito Ortiz – which was a huge success – I dipped my toes into the water and I experienced it and it was actually wonderful. I love the MMA.
“Dana came out and criticized me and ridiculed me and all that stuff, but you know what? Dana is doing a phenomenal job in defending his sport, in growing his sport, and he’s doing it big. He’s doing it great. I commend him.”
Whether anyone can truly make fighting in the time of coronavirus safe is up for debate but regardless, the show will go on this weekend as UFC 249 will take place at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. this Saturday.