UFC’s decision to move London event leaves fighters in limbo and out of pocket

The UFC's decision to delay postponing its London show due to the coronavirus outbreak has left fighters stranded and thousands of pounds out of pocket

The promotion has refused to cancel shows across the world despite countries shutting their borders and flights being grounded.

UFC president Dana White finally admitted defeat in his bid to host next weekend's show in London which was due to feature a welterweight fight between Birmingham's Leon Edwards and former champion Tyron Woodley.

White was forced to back down after US president Donald Trump extended his travel ban to include the UK and Ireland.

But the 50-year-old insists the event will take place in a different location as he called on fighters to hop on flights to America.

"The fight can't obviously continue in London, but it will go on," White said.

"We are working on finding a new venue, likely to be in the United States, and I have my matchmakers working on putting the undercard together."

With the travel ban due to come into effect at 4am on Tuesday, White is determined to rearrange the show with its main event in tact.

It is understood Edwards is expected to fly to America before flights are grounded – despite uncertainty over whether or when he will be able to return.

"We're not stopping," White added. "We will keep finding a way to put on the fights. I'm in the fight business. I've been doing this for over 20 years, and this stuff happens to me every weekend – obviously not at this level.

"Unless there's a total shutdown of the country where people can't leave their houses and things like that, these fights will happen.

"We will find venues and we will figure this out. The only thing that's going to stop us is a complete government shutdown where people are confined to their homes."

The UFC then sent an email to a number of managers who represent mixed mixed martial artists in a desperate bid to put together an undercard.

"Because we are moving this event to the U.S. next weekend, there will be a number of open spots on that card," the email read.

"If you have anyone currently under UFC contract, from bantamweight to welterweight, who wants a short notice fight, please let me know.

"If you have any UFC vets or fighters ready for UFC on a week's notice, please let me know.

"DO NOT email me about anyone who is not a US CITIZEN or does not have A CURRENT P1 VISA."

The UFC has yet to make an announcement about compensating its fighters for cancelled bouts, unlike its rival Bellator who did so after cancelling its event in Connecticut at just a few hours' notice.

President Scott Coker said to widespread praise: "The health and safety of our athletes, fans and staff are our number one priority and we will continue to monitor all information surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak.

"All athletes that were scheduled to compete at Bellator 241, as well as officials, judges, cutmen and additional event personnel, have been compensated. Next to everyone’s health and safety, this was our biggest priority."

Meanwhile, the UFC's decision to move its London event has left a number of fighters in limbo.

Ashlee Evans-Smith, who was due to take on Liverpool's Molly McCann, faced a race against time to return to California, eventually boarding a flight at around 4pm on Sunday.

She said: "I've been in London for two days, actually only 24 hours on the ground.

"Anyway, fight's off, postponed, all I really know is that I've got to get back to California, yesterday basically."

Marc Diakese, who was scheduled to take on Jai Herbert, was philosophical about his fight being cancelled, but revealed he will be hit hard financially.

He said: "I've spent money and months away from home preparing, however due to coronavirus, UFC London won't be going ahead.

"Obviously health comes first, I hope everyone stays safe at home with their families."

Another Brit due to appear on the card, Danny Roberts, said: "After numerous months abroad, time spent away from family and all the other sacrifices associated with competing at the elite, it goes without saying that my personal frustration is on another level right now.

"I have worked hard my whole life for these moments and, particularly in light of last year’s events, I was fully focused on putting on an unforgettable show on for the fans in this year’s co-main event.

"I live and breathe fighting. I love performing for the fans. I have done everything in my power to make sure this fight happens. "However, this is completely out of my control and recognise that the health and safety of the 20,000 people who would be in the O2 Arena ‪on Saturday night‬ is paramount.

"Therefore, despite the widespread disappointment, if delaying or moving the competition protects people it’s 100 per cent worth it.

"Life is all about perspective and, in this time of madness, I would urge everyone to spend quality time with their loved ones – that’s certainly what I will be doing. Let’s fight this virus together."

The UFC has come under mounting criticism for its decision to battle on despite the outbreak which has killed more than 6,000 people worldwide.

They ploughed on with their Fight Night card in Brazil on Saturday night but held it behind closed doors.

Subsequent events in Columbus and Portland will also have to be relocated but plans to host them at the UFC's headquarters in Las Vegas have been scrapped after the Nevada State Athletic Commission revoked all combat licenses until March 25.

White also insists the eagerly-awaited lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson – a bout which has already been rescheduled four times – will go head on April 18, but not in its original venue of New York.

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