Hot Tweets: Discussing the coronavirus’ impact on UFC 249, and an important hypothetical question

Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It’s been a stretch since we’ve had a Hot Tweets, so let’s recap everything that’s happened since then: The world has begun to end, and sports have been canceled.

Yep, that pretty much covers it. So let’s talk all about COVID-19, and how it may or may not affect UFC 249.


UFC 249 and the coronavirus

In case you’ve been locked in The Big Brother House and have no idea about anything that’s been going on: A global pandemic has caused the cancellation or postponement of almost all major sporting events, including several UFC events. And yet, despite the seriousness of the situation and the unanimity of medical professionals, who strongly urge everyone to self-isolate and keep large gatherings of people to an absolute minimum, Dana White has steadfastly insisted that UFC 249 and the lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson will happen, one way or another. But will it really?

The facts are these:

  1. UFC 249 is less than a month away.
  2. UFC 249 might have a location, because New York state is no longer willing to allow it to go forward.
  3. Khabib’s team has stated that they need a location before fight week, or else they would have to refuse the event.
  4. Las Vegas – the presumptive fall back location for the bout – is currently under a 30-day shutdown, and Khabib has been open about never wishing to compete in Nevada again following UFC 229.

So that gives the UFC 20 days to find a new location that will allow them to hold the event, allow fighters to fly in from all around the world, and will have accommodations for the fighters, their team, the UFC staff, etc.

Look, I’m not saying it can’t be done. But the logistics here would be a stretch even under the best circumstances, and these are far from the best circumstances. There just aren’t going to be that many cities/countries willing to accommodate the UFC on this, especially since this won’t even be a big economic boon to them, as any version of this story playing out involves a closed arena.

Khabib and his team are back in Russia, which means either UFC 249 is taking place there, or they’ve given up on the fight happening as planned, and while it’s not impossible, I struggle to think Tony is going to fly to Khabib’s neck of the woods to fight him on two week’s notice.

Dana dared people to bet against him on this and, to be fair, he has a history of proving doubters wrong. But I’m taking the other side of this one.


But what if it does happen . . .

If this fight does somehow happen, in my mind it can only happen one way: The rest of the card is cancelled, and only the main event and co-main take place in a closed event space; minimal people involved. If that’s the case, it would be bad optics to jack up the price of the PPV, because it would look like the UFC was attempting to take advantage of the dearth of sports right now.

That being said, I don’t need the rest of UFC 249. No one does. The only fight anyone needs to see is Khabib vs. Tony, and that isn’t just the greatest lightweight fight ever, it’s the best fight of all-time, full stop. This fight is for the status of lightweight G.O.A.T. and, legitimately, the winner will have a decent claim as pound-for-pound G.O.A.T. This is a genuinely unprecedented event in MMA and likely won’t happen again anytime soon. It is the perfect ideal of the sport. Which is why I hope UFC 249 doesn’t happen.

MMA will literally never get better than Khabib vs. Tony. Anything that happens after may exceed it in spectacle, but nothing will ever outstrip it in significance – only match it. I know the idea of waiting for it – again – sucks, but I don’t want the legacy of the greatest fight of all time to be tarnished because it was held in front of 23 people in a gym in Makhachkala amid a global pandemic. I want all the pomp and circumstance, media circus, and full-scale promotional buildup that should accompany the best fight ever. Incidentally, the buildup will be even bigger a sixth time around, as God himself seems determined to keep this fight from happening. We deserve that.

That also being said, if the fight happens, there is no way I’m not going to watch it. Outside of not wanting the fight to take place for the personal reasons outlined above, I do think that holding events right now verges on moral bankruptcy. But if April 18th rolls around and Khabib and Tony are in the cage together, I will raise my hypocrite flag high and buy that PPV, no matter the cost. The UFC could jack the price up to $250, and I’m still copping it. After all, I’m already selling some of my soul to watch – what’s money in the context of that?


What if the UFC just made it free?

I doubt it. Given everything else that is going on, there hasn’t been a massive promotional push for this event, and one thing most fans underestimate is how much momentum plays a factor in PPV sales. Let’s say UFC 249 does take place – the coronavirus has effectively neutered most promotional aspects of it. There isn’t a wide media push because their aren’t scrums or pressers. The fighters are out of the limelight, and the media push that will happen will center almost entirely around whether or not Khabib vs. Tony is cursed. Even with the lack of other options, that’s not something that really inspires people to drop $65, especially given that the global economy is heading for a stark recession.

Putting the card on ESPN, though, would be interesting. Under normal circumstances, there’s no way the UFC would go for it. But with ESPN feeling the squeeze from a lack of sports content, I could see them approaching Dana and working out a deal to throw this on ESPN in primetime for a godly sum of money. If that were the case, it would really be a win-win for the UFC. Get a king’s ransom and dominate the ratings, and raise the overall awareness of your champion. If I’m Dana, I’m at least making a phone call to see if we can make that happen.


Business, man.

Yes and no. It is a major company, and so it is going to feel the affects of this global economic disaster. And given its debt from the $4B purchase and the interest on that, losing several months revenue is going to be really painful for them, which probably has something to do with why Dana is so adamant about continuing to put on shows despite the overwhelming consensus that doing so is harmful.

That being said, they’re not at risk of going bankrupt, and it’s not like any other promotion is going to surge during a global pandemic. In fact, even with their financial burdens, the size and ubiquity of the UFC serves to insulate them from a lot of this. It’s basically the same as being a rich person amid all this. If you live paycheck-to-paycheck, coronavirus is a serious problem for your economic livelihood. If you’re rich, coronavirus is still a danger to your health, but it’s more inconvenient for your business than it is disastrous.


An important hypothetical

It’s been a somber return for Hot Tweets, so let’s leave it with an important hypothetical question. Last week, this question was posed on the NBA’s reddit:

It’s a phenomenal question and so, I want to appropriate it for MMA purposes. To be clear, I think the answer to the above question is 100 percent yes, you accept the challenge. Here’s the best version of this I could come up with:

You are guaranteed eight fights in the UFC. Before your contract is up, you need to land 100 significant strikes, one submission attempt, one takedown, and make it to the third round at least once. If you succeed, you get $100M. If you fail, you die (or you may die in the process). Some stipulations:

  • You get to pick your opponents, but they must be active UFC fighters and in your weight class or above.
  • If you somehow win a fight, you automatically win the bet.
  • If you win a Fight of the Night bonus, you automatically win the bet.
  • No one gets to know the parameters of the bet and you cannot tell anyone.
  • You must talk massive amounts of sh*t about each opponent before each bout. Don’t get to take the respectful tact.

I tried to find the sweet spot between being too easy and impossible, and I feel like I’m in the neighborhood with this one, or at least the ballpark. For me, I think I’m taking this because the reward is so high and it feels achievable given that I get to pick my opponents. And let’s be honest, I’ve had my ass kicked many times for free, so getting paid $100M to get it kicked repeatedly is well worth it. But let’s end our triumphant return by seeing what y’all think:


Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about at least tacitly related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Get weird with it. Let’s have fun.

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