The UFC has postponed its next three cards as the coronavirus pandemic continues to effectively shut down the sports world.
UFC president Dana White informed his employees on Monday that he has changed his mind on holding events -- even without fans -- because of the growing restrictions on travel and public gatherings.
The UFC held an event in Brasilia, Brazil, on Saturday without fans in the arena, and White vowed later that night that ensuing fight cards would go on as scheduled.
But a card in London scheduled for Saturday quickly fell apart as England set forth crowd restrictions and the U.K. was put on a list of countries with travel restrictions.
White wanted to relocate that card to the UFC's Apex facility in Las Vegas, but Nevada banned athletic events until at least March 25.
And California is banning sporting events until at least March 31.
The postponement extends through a card on April 11, which means the next scheduled card is April 18, when Khabib Nurmagomedov defends his lightweight belt against Tony Ferguson in New York. That matchup has fallen through four previous times due to various circumstances.
White has vowed there won't be another cancellation. But after declaring a state of emergency and banning crowds of 50 or more, New York said no to UFC 249.
White said it's possible the fight won't be held in the U.S., but it's going to happen.
Here is what we know for now. This story will be updated as the fluid situation continues to develop.
What do we know about the next three events?
The UFC has officially postponed its next three events, the last of which was scheduled to take place on April 11, because of the ever-growing impact of the coronavirus.
White alerted his entire staff of the decision on Monday, via email. According to White, the company was prepared to do anything it took to move forward with three UFC Fight Night events on March 21, 28 and April 11. However, the White House's recommendation on Monday to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people made hosting events impossible.
"As you've heard me say, I've been in the fight game for 20 years, and this is what we do -- we find a way to keep our events going no matter what," White wrote in the email, which was obtained by ESPN. "But this is different. The whole world is being affected right now, and nothing is more important than the health and safety of you and your families."
In addition to postponing the events, the UFC has closed its executive offices in Las Vegas.
How did the fighters react to the news?
Not surprisingly, there was disappointment and some surprise by the fighters who took to social media to express their thoughts on the situation.
Included were Tyron Woodley, Leon Edwards and Francis Ngannou, who were set to hold main event spots on the upcoming cards. Woodley and Edwards were originally scheduled to meet on Saturday, while Ngannou was to face Jairzinho Rozenstruik on March 28.
Will Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson fight after being canceled four previous times?
White says the Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov fight will go on, but he's not positive where, as some states -- such as Nevada and California -- are banning athletic competition, while others continue to restrict crowd sizes as precautionary measures against the coronavirus pandemic.
The bout was scheduled for April 18 in Brooklyn, but New York has declared a state of emergency, banning crowds of more than 50, and said no to UFC 249.
White said it might even happen in another country and dared the skeptics to doubt his resolve.
"If you're a fan, a media member or whatever you might be, you want to bet against me?" White said on TSN. "You want to bet that I can't pull stuff off? I mean, at some point, you'd stop doubting me, I would imagine. But maybe not. We'll see."
How do fighters feel about competing while other sports have shut down?
Fighters initially applauded the UFC's decision to keep holding the events.
The reaction on social media to Saturday's card in an empty arena in Brasilia, Brazil, for instance, was positive.
Some fighters are concerned about the physical ramifications of fighting during this pandemic, while others are concerned about the monetary aspects. They need fights to pay bills.
"This is how we make money," Cody Stamann said. "If you don't fight, you don't get paid -- that's the deal.
"I think the UFC is trying to do their best by us, the best by everyone."
UFC middleweight Eric Spicely, who was scheduled to fight on the March 28 Columbus card, which no longer has a location, said he's worried about the uncertainty of the next few weeks, as well as his health -- especially during a weight cut.
"I'm pretty concerned with this," he said. "We're all cutting weight. I'm starting to cut now. I'm eating a lot less. I just went to the doctor to get a physical and she's like, 'You have some fluid behind your ears. You might be getting a cold.' I just had a mild staph infection on my foot that I just got over. I don't know, man.
"It almost seems like it's not worth it. Everyone else is canceling events. And I'm not really interested in fighting in front of no fans. It's not gonna feel like a fight. There's no energy. I want to get paid, so I'm gonna have to, obviously. I have no choice. But that's gonna be weird as hell."
Spicely no longer has to worry about that after Monday's news.
How are gyms responding to the pandemic?
Some gyms closed over the weekend, but for the most part, the key is emphasizing good precautionary habits.
Kevin Holland, who fights out of Travis Lutter BJJ in Fort Worth, Texas: "The whole gym is using precautions. Of course we clean the mats every day, clean the mats before every practice. We've got hand sanitizer all over the gym. Taking showers before we leave the gym. I think we got some new sanitizer in there that's supposed to be A-grade medical type of stuff. People work at the hospital and bring some stuff through the gym. I think it's probably one of the cleanest spots. Definitely cleaner than my house right now, that's for sure."
Ray Longo, head coach of LAW MMA in Garden City, New York: "[We] closed the gym for the weekend to see where we're at. We're really just trying to be proactive. The gyms are really bad for passing along crap. Maybe even worse than the train, because you're really on top of people, especially jiu-jitsu. Everybody is gonna follow suit, trust me. We talked about it. You look around, there's probably people who were in the gym already who have it. It's like a numbers game. I'm not even that guy and I'm cleaning my hands every 20 minutes.
"I think it's gonna be fine, but I think they needed to take the steps they did even though it's drastic. I closed the gym down, but we have fighters who still have fights. For the people who have fights coming up, look, we're just limited. Instead of having 80 people in here, we'll have three. That's a big difference. We're really being diligent with cleaning all the dumbbells and handles."
"We hired a second cleaning person, so we have someone in the gym cleaning almost at all times." John Crouch, head coach of MMA Lab
Sayif Saud, head coach of Fortis MMA in Dallas (from Instagram): "We decided to close the gym down until March 23. We want to be proactive to prevent any spreading of the virus in our community and throughout our membership. We will be deep cleaning the gym tomorrow and Sunday. We will be assessing the situation daily. If at anytime within the next 10 days we see a positive shift and feel we can reopen safely for our members we will do so. We are hopeful that we will have a good grasp on where things are within ten days.
"I will be communicating any and all changes as soon as they happen. Until then please use every precaution available to you and stay healthy. We will not be reactive to this situation. Let's do the right thing now and get ahead of it. Compromising our members' health and wellness is not an option."
Dan Lambert, owner of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida: "We are always very diligent about keeping the gym clean and telling sick fighters to stay home. We have obviously stepped that up to another level. Months ago, we stopped allowing fighters and training partners to come in from different countries that are at high risk. We are obviously not the type of place that can allow its employees to work from home on their laptops, so we are still grinding. On Saturday, we made the decision to close the gym to everyone except for pro fighters and coaches. Fighters need to be there. Regular members don't."
John Crouch, head coach of MMA Lab: "We're doing everything we can to keep everyone healthy and most importantly make everyone feel safe. We're not just a gym for fighters, we have regular members too. Any member who feels uncomfortable, they can come to us and we'll suspend their membership.
"We hired a second cleaning person, so we have someone in the gym cleaning almost at all times. There are wipes by every machine and we're advising people to use them before and after they work out. We're telling all the fighters to shower before training and then shower again before they leave the gym -- shower in and shower out. We're asking everyone to keep their gear clean too. If anyone is feeling sick, we're asking them not to come in. Everyone is being told to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough."
-- Marc Raimondi
Ringside physicians president: Test everyone
Association of Ringside Physicians (APR) president Dr. Donald Muzzi said the group's official position when it comes to combat sports is to follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. On Sunday, the CDC recommended canceling all events of more than 50 people in the United States for eight weeks. Muzzi said his advice would be to put things on hold for the time being, which is now going to happen.
If the promotion wanted to keep holding cards, everyone in those venues should be tested for coronavirus.
"They absolutely should be testing everybody," Muzzi told ESPN before Monday's news, when it appeared cards would be held over the next three weeks. "But I would advise them not to have a fight. This can wait. ... We have to do the best we can to attenuate the acceleration of this disease process and diminish the amount of people that are acutely effective. We have to hold off for eight weeks and see what happens. Hopefully, this passes."
The ARP is the group that provides education, training and certification to ringside doctors for combat sports worldwide. But it has no authority over individual members when it comes to who works what events. If fights do go on, athletes will be cutting weight.
RESPECT. pic.twitter.com/HZiOTNL8RG— Dan Hangman Hooker (@danthehangman) February 23, 2020
Muzzi said an excessive weight cut puts "stress on the immune system, which makes you more susceptible to infection."
Another consideration is postfight hospital visits. Fighters routinely get transported to a local emergency room after hard fights for even precautionary reasons, not to mention broken bones or other injuries suffered in the bout. That would not be advisable in the current climate, when hospitals could be backed up with COVID-19 patients.
"The last thing you want to do is go to an ER right now for a cut," Muzzi said. "A guy goes in let's say for a cut or a shoulder injury or something, he's gonna get put on the back burner. Because they've got much more important things to worry about. Another thing, that's another chance for exposure from an ER that has potential patients with that virus."
-- Marc Raimondi