The next four UFC events, including UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje, could take place at Tachi Palace Casino in Lemoore, California, Sherdog founder Jeff Sherwood, now affiliated with Between Rounds Radio, reported on Twitter on Monday.
— Sherdog (@TheSherdoggy) April 6, 2020
“Next 4 UFC’s at the @TPFmma @Tachipalace #iToldYouFirst @ufc @danawhite #UFC249,” wrote Sherwood on Twitter. Sherwood is the founder of Sherdog.com, one of MMA’s leading news outlets and fight databases.
The New York Times has since confirmed Sherwood’s report.
Like all other sporting leagues and organizations, the UFC has been significantly affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. However, unlike leagues such as the NBA, NHL, PGA Tour, MLB, and XFL, among others, the UFC has not elected to postpone or suspend all of its upcoming events.
Several institutions related to combat sports, including various other promotions, have come out against promoting events during this time. On Monday, the Association of Ringside Physicians released a statement recommending “the indefinite suspension of all combat sports events.”
The statement read, in part, “It is our recommendation that all combat sporting events be postponed until further notice. This includes any and all events, regardless of the number of people involved. Any combat sport taking place during this global pandemic places the athletes, officials, and anyone else involved in the event under unnecessary risk of infection and transmission of Covid-19. In addition, combat sports athletes often require medical attention after a bout, and we do not wish to see any additional strain on an already overwhelmed medical system.”
Of the events the promotion has not postponed, UFC 249 – scheduled for April 18 – is the promotion’s next up. The event, which was originally slated to see lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov defend his title against top contender Tony Ferguson, has been altered dramatically by the coronavirus.
With Nurmagomedov largely unable to travel from Russia due to the country’s precautionary border closures, the UFC was able to put together an interim title fight between Ferguson and fellow top contender Justin Gaethje on short notice, with UFC President Dana White tweeting that the “fight is signed” on Monday.
White, who has been steadfast in his pursuit of promoting events in the face of COVID-19 and media scrutiny about his plans to continue promoting events in its midst, did not reveal the location of UFC 249 to media or the public. In his tweet, White wrote that the fight take place “somewhere on EARTH!!!!”
Speaking to Yahoo! Sports‘ Kevin Iole on March 24, White stated that “a lot of this hysteria, and all this stuff that’s gone on has been driven by the media. And the less the media knows, the better off it is.”
However, Sherwood reported that Tachi Palace Casino is the site of UFC 249 and future planned, COVID-19 hindered UFC events.
Tachi Palace Casino, located in Lemoore, California, is a tribal casino of the Tachi Yokut tribe. The distinction is an important one, as tribal lands do not have to adhere to “certain standards and licensing requirements” that other institutions promoting MMA fights do, as Josh Gross (now of The Athletic) explained for Sports Illustrated in 2010.
At present, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) has canceled all combating sporting events through May, a ruling that would have been a death knell for a UFC plan to promote the event in California on non-tribal lands.
“The commission didn’t take this decision lightly and understands the potential economic loss to promoters and the industry of combative sports,” the CSAC said in a statement to ESPN. “We had to weigh the best interest of our fighters and the community around us.”
By promoting an event on tribal lands, the UFC can essentially bypass the CSAC’s ruling.
Tachi Palace has been home to many MMA events in the past, including cards from the defunct WEC, major U.S. promotion Bellator MMA, and even the eponymous Tachi Palace Fights, a regional promotion based in California.
On March 20, the casino issued a statement, writing that in order to “prioritize the health and wellness of its guests and staff amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19),” it would “suspend all gaming operations” temporarily.
General Manager of Tachi Palace Casino Resort Michael Olujic stated, “The health and safety of our guests and team members is our number one priority, and we will take every measure necessary to protect their well being.”
Tribal Council Chairman Leo Sisco added, “As we prepare and navigate through this uncertain time, we will continue to follow guidance from the CDC, WHO and other health authorities.”
The Body Lock attempted to contact a spokesperson at Tachi Palace Casino to confirm Sherwood’s report but were unable to reach an individual qualified to discuss the topic.