UFC 249 was canceled Thursday after ESPN and parent company Disney stopped UFC President Dana White’s plan to keep fighting amid the coronavirus pandemic, the AP reports. After defiantly vowing for weeks—amid mixed public opinion—to maintain a regular schedule of fights while the rest of the sports world halted, White confirmed the decision to cease competition in a text to the AP. “I was ready to go on Saturday, but Disney and ESPN asked me to step down,” White wrote. “I love and respect my partnership with them so I postponed the event.” UFC 249 was scheduled for April 18 on ESPN Plus pay-per-view, and White planned to follow it with regular fight cards from Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino on tribal land in California’s Central Valley.
In an interview on ESPN, White said he “got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney and the highest level of ESPN” asking him to cancel the shows. The UFC moved to ESPN in 2019 with a reported $1.5 billion deal. The network issued a statement: “ESPN has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249. Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons. ESPN expressed its concerns to the UFC and they understood.” While the UFC won't have fights in the upcoming weeks, White said he is still pursuing his plan to build an octagon and everything else necessary to telecast small fight shows on an unidentified private island. White had planned to use the so-called “Fight Island” in upcoming months for non-American fighters who couldn't get into the US. (Click for more on White's plan.)