Column: Glimmer of hope for sports, but don't pop champagne

UFC President Dana White speaks at a news conference in September. White said Wednesday that UFC is planning to return to Las Vegas for a card this month.

On March 14, the Nevada State Athletic Commission halted all combat sports in the state because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a ban that still stood as of Wednesday. Nevertheless, UFC President Dana White told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a text message early Wednesday morning that he will be holding a mixed martial arts card May 30, without fans present, at the company’s Apex facility in Las Vegas.

“We are a go on the 30th,” White said in the text message.

Neither the Nevada State Athletic Commission nor the office of Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak responded to a request for comment on White’s plans. Nevada began the first phase of its reopening plan on May 9, with public gatherings of larger than 10 people still forbidden unless everyone lives in the same household. Nevada, which has seen its percentage of positive coronavirus tests decline in recent weeks, could soon begin the second phase of its reopening. That would allow more businesses to reopen while maintaining restrictions on public gatherings. The state estimates that this second phase “will likely last many weeks.”

Sisolak and the Nevada Gaming Control Board have yet to announce when the state’s casinos may reopen, though some Las Vegas resorts have started accepting reservations for as early as Tuesday. Others will wait until early June, with the gaming board recommending strict limits on the number of people allowed in the casinos.

Should Nevada not approve the return of combat sports, White has another option. Last week, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that pro sports could return to his state, without fans present. On Saturday, White said he would “100%” hold the May 30 UFC card in Arizona if Nevada continues to ban combat sports.

UFC held three cards between May 9 and May 16 at an empty arena in Jacksonville, Florida, after that state allowed such events to resume. The company said it tested everyone involved in the bouts for the novel coronavirus and turned up three positive tests: middleweight Ronaldo Souza and two of his cornermen, who were pulled from the UFC 249 card on May 8.

White said last week that fighters would be safer if the cards were held in Las Vegas.

“It makes more sense with what’s going on for us to be doing the events at our own arena,” he said. “It will be a lot safer for my employees, the fighters, everyone. I hope to have fights there this month.”

On Tuesday, welterweight Gilbert Burns announced that he had signed to fight May 30, with reports saying he will be paired against former champion Tyron Woodley in that night’s main event.

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