In March 2020, businesses and sports began to shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic was in its infancy. With everybody in panic mode, Dana White and the company chose a different route, opting to keep their business moving forward with as little compromise as possible. It was a somewhat controversial move at the time, but the UFC proved they knew what they were doing to both keep fighters safe and to keep fans entertained on a weekly basis during quarantine.
UFC President Dana White sat down with Tucker Carlson, host of Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News, inside the UFC APEX in Las Vegas to discuss the promotion’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its decision to keep the wheels turning while other businesses were stopped in their tracks.
“This ironically was built… We were literally putting the last nails and screws in this place right when COVID hit. So, it couldn’t have been more perfect if we were actually allowed to use the arena because they shut Nevada down and we couldn’t even do it in our own facility that we controlled and that we could have created a bubble here, but the government wouldn’t let us.”
With the inability to run events of any type, Dana White was frustrated, but nevertheless determined to find a way.
“Yeah, it was tough. I say it all the time, COVID was the toughest thing I ever had to navigate in the history of this company. And if you look at where we came from, that’s actually saying something. But my attitude and my thought process was, ‘This is America. We don’t quit. We don’t give up. And we definitely don’t run and hide in our houses.’ I figured there had to be a way.”
Dana White kept UFC alive during the lockdowns. He didn't cave to pressure. Here's how he did it. pic.twitter.com/0Ra6ZJJAJc
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) September 27, 2022
Dana White Refused to Lay Off Employees Who Have Been Loyal to Him For Years
With organizations all over the world shutting down and laying off workers, Dana White and the UFC pressed on, retaining all of their employees despite not having established a way to keep the business going in the significantly restricted world of the COVID-19 pandemic
“A lot of my people around here have been with me for a long time. 10-20 years and we do events every weekend. These people work hard, they’ve been dedicated to this company, to me. If you look at COVID, it’s probably the scariest thing to happen in the history of my life, and to all of a sudden just dump my employees the minute something bad happens, it’s just not the way that I’m built. It wasn’t gonna no matter what. I would have rather seen the company burn and go down in flames before I would hurt my employees.”
Determined to keep their employees, it presented a problem for the UFC. Not being able to broadcast live events with a live crowd significantly diminished the UFC’s profits. Unable to run events in American venues, Dana White began looking at the possibility of setting up shop on an island.
“You figure out how to put on events. You figure out how to keep the show alive and keep it going. At the time, I’m close to the royal family in Abu Dhabi and they were doing testing over there. If they were doing testing, we could do testing over here. It was just a matter of figuring out how to do it and figuring out a place where we could go where we could build a true bubble and make sure the people were safe and put on events.”
Thus, Fight Island was born. The UFC established its own bubble on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The first event held on Fight Island was UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal. The promotion would go on to hold nine events at the remote location through October 2020. In January 2021 the UFC continued running events in Abu Dhabi, but by then the setting shifted to Etihad Arena.
The UFC will return to Etihad Arena on October 22nd for UFC 280: Oliveira vs. Makhachev.