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Report: UFC forced to stage UFC 249 to collect guaranteed payment from ESPN

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UFC 229: Khabib v McGregor Press Conference Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White, who first and foremost is a combat sports promoter, gave a pretty good speech on Monday in his conversation with ESPN, which just so happens to be the same network that pays him for content.

“Right now, we need leadership,” White insisted. “We need people who are going to go out and find solutions. Hiding in your house is not an answer. You keep people in their houses for too long without entertainment, people are going to start losing their minds.”

And their paychecks.

To wit, the promotion only banks its $750 million payout for 2020 if it’s able to stage 42 live mixed martial arts (MMA) events for the Disney-owned ESPN, which includes the UFC 249 pay-per-view (PPV) card on April 18. A pretty tall order in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down most of the modern world.

As a result, White and Co. are setting up shop on Indian reservations and remote islands.

“I’d be surprised if they can’t fulfill their contract,” media analyst Brandon Ross told Wall Street Journal. “Disney is paying UFC no matter what... all the UFC has to do is put the show on to get a minimum payment.”

To date, the promotion has staged just seven of its 42 contracted fight cards.

The most likely destination for UFC 249 is Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, Calif., part of the Santa Rosa Indian Community. International events will be held on a yet-to-be revealed island in May, one that allows overseas fighters to avoid stateside travel restrictions.

With UFC 250 also losing its home to coronavirus, expect the promotion to remain with Tachi Palace and “Fight Island” for the foreseeable future. The show must go on, but more for the struggling Endeavor — parent company of UFC — than for MMA fans or fighters.