LOS ANGELES — The UFC is determined to fight on amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While leagues and organizers across sports canceled or delayed competition this week, the UFC proceeded with its plans to hold a fan-free event Saturday night in Brasilia, Brazil. Next weekend, the promotion still plans to stage a full fight card with fans inside London’s O2 Arena.

The UFC hasn’t canceled any competitions, even those previously scheduled for areas where large gatherings are now banned. Instead, the promotion has moved events scheduled for March 28 in Columbus, Ohio, and April 11 in Portland, Oregon, to the new UFC Apex complex in Las Vegas, where it has a small arena and television production capabilities.

UFC President Dana White attributes his decision to go against the sports world’s collective mindset partly to a conversation Thursday with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. White and Trump are longtime friends and business associates.

“I talked to the president and the vice president of the United States about this,” White said on ESPN, his promotion’s broadcast partner. “They’re taking this very serious. They’re saying, ‘Be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking.’ Everybody is panicking, and instead of panicking, we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how we can keep the sport safe and how we can continue to put on events.”

The UFC won’t have fans in the stands, but the competition will go on — and more importantly to the fighters, they’ll get paid in a sport with no financial compensation unless a fight actually takes place.

White said the UFC will monitor its fighters for symptoms of coronavirus before allowing them to compete.

“We’re always looking out for the health and safety of our fans, our athletes, whatever it might be,” White said. “This thing going on, we’re going to do the same thing. We’re going to make sure that two healthy athletes are competing, and these guys are good to go.”

NASCAR, INDYCAR CALL OFF EVENTS

NASCAR and IndyCar reversed course Friday and pulled the plug on racing this weekend, with IndyCar also suspending its season through the end of April due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

NASCAR called off Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and next weekend’s events at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Both events were already scheduled to be run without spectators.

IndyCar was scheduled to open its season Sunday on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg without fans. Formula One also canceled its season-opening race in Australia, leaving the first full weekend of global motorsports without a major event.

Mark Miles, president and CEO of IndyCar parent company Penske Enterprises, said the about-face came as both IndyCar and NASCAR saw more and more events and attractions closing. He cited the cancellation mid-tournament of The Players Championship and the closure of theme parks as indicators public gatherings should not proceed.

“There’s a public health risk any time people are getting together,” Miles said. “Really, there isn’t a sporting event left that feels comfortable running even without fans. … We just felt like it was the right thing to do to not allow the opportunity for the racers to go racing here.”

It takes six to eight weeks to build a street course, which shuts down large portions of the host city. It is unlikely that St. Petersburg can host the event later this year because of the permits required. Miles also said the Grand Prix of Long Beach, scheduled for April 19, was officially canceled for 2020.

It was unknown what will happen to races in Birmingham, Alabama, and at Circuit of the Americas in Texas, two of the four April races canceled Friday by IndyCar.

NHL TELLS PLAYERS TO SELF-ISOLATE

The NHL is telling its players and staff to stay away from the rink and self-isolate while hockey is on a hiatus of unknown length during the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday he was not aware of any player or league employee testing positive for the new coronavirus, but he can’t say for certain that no one is feeling ill or awaiting test results. The league announced Thursday it was putting its season on “pause,” but Bettman remains optimistic of resuming play and eventually awarding the Stanley Cup.

“That would be the goal,” Bettman said in a phone interview with The Associated Press and the NHL’s website. “Health, safety, well-being of the NHL family, especially and including our fans, is most important. If the business considerations and the money were the only thing, then we and a bunch of others would keep playing.”

Bettman told owners the first positive test result by any player would mean “all bets are off” and that the decision to suspend the season came after what happened in the NBA. There are some 700 players among the 31 NHL teams across North America.


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