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Boxing on Combat Island?

Up until a day or two ago, UFC spokesperson Dana White was talking about staging his company’s UFC 249 event, April 18, on a privately-owned combat island, beyond the reach of authorities clamping down on live events due to the COVID-19 global health crisis.

White Plowing On

Despite main-event star  Khabib Nurmagomedov pulling out of the card, on lockdown in his native Russia, the show seems to be going on. Even with just about every single sanctioning/governing organization advising against having a combat sports event right now, White is plowing on.

“I talked to the president and the vice president of the United States about this,” White told ESPN. “They’re taking this very serious. They’re saying, ‘Be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking.’ Everybody is panicking, and instead of panicking, we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how we can keep the sport safe and how we can continue to put on events.

“We’re always looking out for the health and safety of our fans, our athletes, whatever it might be. This thing going on, we’re going to do the same thing. We’re going to make sure that two healthy athletes are competing, and these guys are good to go.”

As of right now, the talk is that White might take his UFC show to a Native American reservation, beyond the domain of U.S. health authorities.

Boxing To Follow Suit?

Whether UFC 249 is held at a reservation or on a private island, though, there are some implications for boxing.

If White is able to pull off a no-audience combat sports event in the middle of a raging pandemic, could boxing follow in his path and do the same?

Boxing has always prided itself as a sort of outlaw sport, below and/or beyond the good-taste limits of more mainstream sports. And, of course, the boxing world can definitely use some revenue flowing through it.

Physicians Oppose

In a statement issued by the Association of Ringside Physicians, the organization flatly rejects any notion of combat sports resuming during the pandemic:

“Any combat sport taking place during this global pandemic places the athletes, officials, and anyone else involved in the event under unnecessary risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19. In addition, combat sports athletes often require medical attention after a bout, and we do not wish to see any additional strain on an already overwhelmed medical system.”

But don’t be surprised if some boxing promoters don’t pursue “fighting beyond the authorities’ reach” if White is successful in putting on UFC 249 as planned.

Hearn: White is “Mad”

Promoter Eddie Hearn, however, says that he won’t be one of those event organizers looking to circumvent worldwide health organization rulings.

“It’s unbelievable,” Hearn said. “I’d like to think that in boxing, there’s no-one more roll your sleeves up and get on with it than me. But even I wouldn’t consider staging an event right now. I’m not even thinking about options, not even on the radar.

“This is stubbornness. These are many of the things that make him successful but at some point you have to sit back and say ‘white flag’. I’m quite surprised ESPN are going ahead with this, obviously they want ratings and money.

“Half of me admires him for cracking on, but the other half says ‘come on don’t be mad.’”


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Paul Magno
Paul Magno has over forty years of experience in and around the sport of boxing and has had his hand in everything, from officiating to training. As a writer, his work has appeared in several online publications, including Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, FightHype, Max Boxing, Boxing.com, Inside Fights, The Boxing Tribune, The Queensberry Rules, and Premier Boxing Champions. You can reach him at: [email protected]
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