By Aiden Holczer
“A wealthy fight enthusiast buys a private island and flies in world-renown martial artists in an effort to determine who the best fighters in the world are.” No, that isn’t the synopsis for Bruce Lee’s famous 1973 film Enter the Dragon. In reality, it’s the most accurate way to describe Dana White and the UFC’s plan to continue operating their business during the COVID-19 crisis.
It all started on April 6th. UFC President Dana White announced that Justin Gaethje would be stepping in on two weeks notice to replace UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 249 against Tony Ferguson. This would mark the FIFTH TIME the highly anticipated and notoriously cursed fight between Ferguson and Khabib would be cancelled.
White informed TMZ that in addition to booking a venue for two whole months in order to guarantee a venue for Ferguson vs Gaethje, he was also “a day or two away from securing a private island” where the UFC plans to hold international bouts due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. White would go on to reiterate these sentiments the following day in an interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamato, saying that “the infrastructure is being built right now”.
The idea of a “fight island” sent ripples through the MMA community with many fans enthusiastically comparing the UFC’s plan to a combination of Enter the Dragon and Mortal Kombat. For a sport that was once derogatorily compared to the film Bloodsport in an effort to describe its “brutality”, it’s fascinating to watch MMA fans now embrace these comparisons.
Despite finding a replacement for Khabib Nurmagomedov and booking an undisclosed venue for two full months, the UFC wasn’t in the clear yet. On April 9th Disney and ESPN executives pulled the plug on UFC 249 and all future events, postponing them “indefinitely”. Soon after the announcement, Dana White was once again being interviewed by Brett Okamato.
White used the interview as an opportunity to reassure all fighters in the UFC that they will get the fights under their contract and that “nobody is getting laid off at the UFC”. He assured the public that the “[UFC] will be the first sport back…Fight Island is real. It’s real.” When asked by Brett Okamoto if White had any idea of an opening date for “Fight Island”, White paused momentarily before saying “about a month”.
After this interview, it became increasingly difficult for fans and members of the MMA media alike to uncover any extra information on the mysterious “Fight Island”. As I’m writing this, we still don’t know its location. Fortunately, on April 14th this all changed.
First reported by mmafighting.com, “The promotion is currently targeting May 9 for its next event, the same date originally reserved for UFC 250 in Brazil.” This date appears to be extremely accurate once you cross reference it with Dana’s “about a month” statement which came on April 9th, almost predicting this date exactly.
On top of that, ESPN’s MMA account on Instagram put out a proposed fight card that very same day– the details of which were provided by Brett Okamoto. Put simply, if this card comes to fruition, it would be the greatest fight card of all time, boxing included. Ferguson vs Gaethje, Cejudo vs Cruz, and Nunes vs Spencer would all be for UFC gold. Ngannou vs Rozenstruik is the MMA equivalent of Mike Tyson vs Deontay Wilder; Pettis vs Cerone puts two of the most beloved fighters in the sport against each other; Hall vs Souza is sure to end in a highlight reel finish; hell, even former NFL star Greg Hardy is on the card.
I could gush about this card for hours, but I don’t want to get my hopes up. In our current situation, nothing is truly guaranteed, but events like this can serve an even higher purpose: a light at the end of an increasingly darker tunnel.