Florida opens up to professional sports: Does UFC have new hope to resume fights?

April 14, 2020

Professional sports are back in business in the State of Florida, even amidst its statewide stay-in-place order because of the global pandemic. Does this mean the UFC could be running events again sooner than even UFC President Dana White expected?

White pulled the plug last week on a revamped UFC 249 happening at Tachi Palace Casino Resort on Tribal Lands in California on April 18. The move came at the behest of executives at broadcast partner ESPN and its parent company Disney, amidst growing political backlash against the UFC resuming business despite California’s statewide stay-at-home order.

There could be new hope for the UFC to resume fights sooner rather than later now that Florida has officially added professional sports as “essential services” during its statewide shutdown.

Jared Moskowitz, Director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, issued a memorandum on Thursday, April 9, making several additions to what Gov. Ron DeSantis deemed essential services, among them was professional sports, which are an important factor in Florida’s economy.

“Employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience — including any athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including services supporting such production — only if the location is closed to the general public.”

The memo cleared the way for the WWE to resume live broadcasting this week with Monday’s edition of “Raw.”

WWE was deemed an “essential business” in Florida, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said on Monday, according to ESPN. That allowed the professional wrestling organization to resume live telecasts from its Orlando training facility and Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla.

That would appear to open a path for the UFC to also resume operations. 

White did everything in his power to move forward with UFC 249 at Tachi Palace, but couldn’t overcome the negative objections of California’s governor. He did, however, promise that the UFC would be the first sport back in business once they were able, noting that he even had a state and governor prepared to back him on resuming operations.

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“I promise you, I will be first and I will be back very soon. Whenever my partner gives me the thumbs up to go, I’m ready to go,” White told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto upon postponing UFC 249.

“Everybody said that I couldn’t do this. I can do this. I can go (April 18). And, if anything ever happened to California where I couldn’t, I have another place right now, with an athletic commission, and the governor and everybody is behind it. I can go April 18, let’s make that clear. I don’t crack to pressure… But ESPN doesn’t want me to do it. They’re my partners. They’ve been nothing but amazing to me. They want me to not go, I’m not gonna go.”

ESPN wasn’t ready for White to move forward on Tribal Lands in California, but perhaps with the governor issuing his go ahead for the state of Florida and WWE resuming operations, it could bring the controversy of the situation down to a level that ESPN and Disney execs deem acceptable.

When ESPN is ready for the UFC to go, perhaps Florida might be an initial launch pad when the cage door swings open again.

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