Why Dana White is hellbent on staging UFC 249 amid coronavirus pandemic

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

UFC president Dana White understands that he infuriates and scares some people by just saying he is trying to stage a major fight night on April 18. 

He understands that some, maybe even the majority, think he should just sit in his Las Vegas mansion and wait this out. He gets that some, maybe even the majority, believe that staging a mixed martial arts card, even one with no fans in attendance and under, as he promises, the strictest possible safety measures, is an absurd and insulting act during a global pandemic.

“Listen,” White told Yahoo Sports this week, “there’s people I care about what they think of me — my employees, my family, my friends. The rest of the people I don’t give a [expletive] what you think of me.”

That’s Dana White. Brash. Profane. Successful. Aggressive. Unapologetic. Detest him if you want. Love him if you want. He isn’t changing. He just isn’t changing. 

To his world view, if he cared what others thought, he never would have built the once-fledgling UFC into a $4 billion global enterprise.

This is why he is about the only sports executive out boldly and publicly promising that he will get back to business, at least for one night, as soon as the middle of April. 

He does not lack confidence. 

“One thing I do know is I'm not wrong,” White said. “I know I'm right. I know it's the right thing to do.”

Here are the basics. White wants UFC 249 to happen on April 18, headlined by the highly anticipated lightweight title fight between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. It will be staged with no fans in a mostly empty sound stage or arena … somewhere. 

Perhaps in Florida. Perhaps in the Middle East. Somewhere. White isn’t yet saying.

He says he can run an entire card with less than 100 people, including fighters, team members, production crew, refs, doctors and stage hands. He’d prefer a full 12-fight card, but acknowledges it may be fewer than that. It’s complicated.

He won’t divulge details, but one UFC fighter expected to be on the card, Francis Ngannou, has confirmed that he is already being tested for coronavirus, suggesting that this will be done to everyone associated, both pre and post fight. Here’s hoping that’s true.

White is adamant in his belief he can do this with no risk to anyone. 

Is he right? He better be.

UFC president Dana White sees UFC 249 as a cause that can inspire other businesses. (Photo by Zhe Ji/Getty Images)

White’s bombast (even if he, and many others, believe it) can distract from his central message. 

“I promise you this,” the 50-year-old said, as an example. “I am going to die someday. I don’t know how. I don’t know from what. But if it's the coronavirus then what am I going to do? Let’s do it. Come on coronavirus.”

That’s a risk he's willing to take. What if his decisions impact others who aren't?

“How long are we going to hide?” he counters. “Are we going to hide for months? Are we going to shut down the whole world for months? It’s crazy.”

That’s White. He tends to say the quiet parts out loud.

His main points can get buried in the noise. First off, this isn’t about money in the way some suggest. He could make more by waiting for better times, when millions in tickets could be sold and he isn’t pushing a pay-per-view during record job losses.

Yes, the card will get a ton of media attention in an otherwise barren sports landscape. No, he isn’t going to lose money. But, still. 

He points out that the easiest thing in the world for him to do is sit back and do nothing. He’s followed all guidance from the state of Nevada, is paying all his employees and has been holed up with his family for nearly two weeks and making the best of the rare downtime.

“You know the last time I played Monopoly?” he joked.

He has a huge home complete with a full gym, spa, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, pools and a movie theatre that carries first run films, all overlooking a plush golf course. 

“My house is built for this,” White said. “And financially I am OK too. I could do this forever. But this isn’t what we should be doing. We have to be responsible but we need to get out and figure this out. How do we protect the people who need to be protected, but get the rest of the people out there in the world back to normal? Let’s do what we do.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 06: (L-R) Opponents Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson face off during the UFC 249 press conference at T-Mobile Arena on March 06, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

He notes that when this happens, he’ll be right there with his fighters and employees (who he said have the option to decline). 

Both Ford and Fiat Chrysler have proposed restarting its factories on April 6, well before UFC 249. An auto factory is not a sealed off fight night. Are those CEOs getting roasted? Will they work a shift on the line? 

“I’m not going to be sitting back in my house sending people out to do something I am not willing to do,” White said. 

White swears he sees this as a cause. He thinks it can be a symbol for all businesses about overcoming challenges.

“I'm doing this because it's what should be done,” White said. “It has nothing to do with the money. It’s about what needs to happen. Like I just told you, I can do [distancing] forever.

“People need some normalcy again,” he continued. “We need somebody to be the first guy to step forward and say, ‘Come on guys, let’s snap back and get going.’ ”

Dana White is willing to be that guy. Hate him for it. Cheer him for it. This is who he is. This is who he’s always been.

“It’s happening,” White promised. “If you want to watch it, watch it. If you don’t, don’t.”

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