'I don't want to die,' says UFC boss Dana White as sport gets back to business amid pandemic

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, UFC has been attempting to get up and running again. UFC President Dana White speaks to CNN about upcoming fight nights, plans to proceed with a private island to host events and his interactions with President Donald Trump.

Posted: May 7, 2020 9:50 PM
Updated: May 7, 2020 9:50 PM

The eyes of the sports world -- and quite possibly beyond -- are on Dana White and his Ultimate Fighting Championship, with three fight nights planned in the space of eight days in May.

And the stakes simply could not be higher.

On Saturday, the UFC is scheduled to become the first sport in the United States to return to action, despite the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, with the organization's president acutely aware of the increased scrutiny that's inevitably coming his way.

"Listen, we have families, too," White told CNN Sport from his headquarters in Las Vegas recently. "I have a family; I don't want to hurt my family. I don't want to die.

"This isn't just some crazy, this is a well thought out plan. We've had very, very smart people, doctors and people that have been involved with the UFC for a very long time working on this thing non-stop since it started. We believe that we have this thing in a place where it can be as safe as it can possibly be."

The trio of events on May 9, 13 and 16 will be staged in Jacksonville, Florida, where the UFC -- which can often attract crowds in excess of 20,000 -- has confirmed all fight nights will be closed to the public due to the pandemic and only "essential personnel" will be in attendance.

The UFC's own website noted: "All athletes and staff will be required to adhere to a number of precautionary measures, such as participating in advanced medical screenings and temperature checks and following social distancing guidelines."

In a press release issued by UFC, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry says the promotion has presented a "safe and sensible" plan while Patrick Cunningham, executive director of the state's Boxing Commission, said "health and safety protocols will be in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all individuals who are helping to3 make these events possible."

And in a statement to CNN Sport, Brian Hughes, chief administrative officer for the City of Jacksonville, said "UFC presented state regulators with a well thought out plan and they are aware of our guidance through local executive orders

"Based on our discussions and the capacity to have code and safety enforcement at the events, we are confident the events will protect the athletes, management and production staff on-site."

As regards a key component of tests, Hughes went on to note that "everyone in the building will have been through a testing regime based on the UFC's plan."

UFC president White -- who's also submitted a 30-page safety protocol document to state authorities ahead of this weekend's pay-per-view event -- says the fighters want to fight, the fans are excited, and that there's been a "phenomenal" reaction, but he also concedes there are no guarantees in life, calling on everyone to play their part.

READ: The life and times of Conor McGregor -- how social media changed UFC fighter

"Fighters just can't show up in Florida and just start hanging out and partying and walking up and down the street," White acknowledges. "We're going to need some help from them, too."

White -- who doesn't think we'll be seeing crowds back at live sports for a while -- also wears another hat these days. He's one of US President Donald Trump's advisers, when it comes to getting America's economy back on track.

White told CNN Sport that he's been on some "great" conference calls with Trump, adding "everyone is motivated to try to figure this thing out and bring back sports."

Trying to return during the pandemic comes at a high-profile risk but White sees the UFC as up for the challenge.

"I could stay home right now. I could be in my swimming pool, hanging out, playing with my kids at home," he asserts.

"I'm not. I'm out here trying to figure this thing out. I'm making sure that every one of my employees and their families are taken care of. My fighters and their families are taken care of. And we're spending a lot of money to do it. You know, this is very expensive. It's not cheap. That's why other people don't want to go right now. It's expensive."

READ: Outside the Octagon, UFC fighter Paige VanZant fights for equality in MMA

Fight Island

While other sports remain too concerned about potential dangers to host any kind of competition just yet, the UFC chief has also been keeping a close eye on the future.

Noting that flying in fighters from oversees to events in the US is proving difficult, plans for his much-vaunted "Fight Island" remain firmly on track.

White says the infrastructure is being worked on, with testing to be done on-site, with the official announcement of the island's exact location now expected in mid-June.

Hits and hoops

As with so many of us, White has had to adapt to a new kind of normality when it comes to riding out the quarantine at his home in Las Vegas.

In addition to indulging in his passion for music -- speaking to CNN Sport with their guitars behind him, White cites the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys as three of his all- time favorite bands -- the UFC front man has been playing some basketball at home, swimming and being around loved ones.

Visit CNN.com/sport for more news, features, and videos

"My daughter's been taking me on some really cool bike rides," White beams. "I've had a really good time during this time off. And a lot of good quality time with my kids."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307332

Reported Deaths: 7095
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20757248
Hinds19869408
Harrison17475302
Rankin13307275
Jackson13095243
Madison9886210
Lee9854169
Jones8289160
Forrest7522146
Lauderdale7185237
Lowndes6261144
Lamar610284
Lafayette6026117
Washington5279132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4440103
Pearl River4418139
Warren4277118
Marshall4267100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4056132
Union403575
Neshoba3984176
Lincoln3869107
Hancock371985
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3177104
Scott310472
Yazoo304268
Alcorn297664
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265679
Wayne261341
Leake260973
Grenada254882
Covington254380
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237647
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182354
Stone179131
Clarke176676
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163130
Yalobusha158636
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125833
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite119941
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105332
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95126
Humphreys94332
Franklin81723
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518588

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753351487
Mobile37698798
Madison33829494
Tuscaloosa25245443
Montgomery23942565
Shelby23094238
Baldwin20617300
Lee15510165
Calhoun14277311
Morgan14137268
Etowah13660345
Marshall11952219
Houston10379278
Elmore9988200
Limestone9806147
Cullman9467188
St. Clair9422234
Lauderdale9208227
DeKalb8745181
Talladega8042171
Walker7087275
Jackson6753110
Autauga6715103
Blount6480135
Colbert6200130
Coffee5397112
Dale4766110
Russell428238
Franklin419882
Chilton4080109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3892146
Escambia387574
Dallas3526149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305475
Lawrence295295
Winston272272
Bibb256258
Marengo248561
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218675
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176741
Monroe171240
Washington163838
Macon154348
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58624
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