Fight week skirmishes between fighters are nothing new to the UFC, but even the famously well-drilled UFC staff were caught out when, in the moments in the immediate lead-up to the UFC 279 pre-fight press conference, all hell broke loose backstage.
Such was the carnage behind the scenes, UFC president Dana White took the unprecedented step of walking out in front of the waiting crowd and cancelling the presser. The decision was met by boos, but at the time, those sitting in the stands had no idea what was taking place behind the curtain.
After order had been restored, White agreed to hold an impromptu scrum with the media, where he gave his immediate reaction to the events that turned UFC 279 fight week upside down.
“Let me just start off by saying I’m not going to tell everybody what went on back here,” he said.
“But you know, it was multiple, crazy … I don’t even know what to call it.
“However many years – 22 years or however long I’ve been doing this – we’ve never had an incident like today, and just all hell broke loose out here. I don’t know.
“I don’t even know how we stopped it, but we didn’t do a good job of not letting it happen. It’s just… I don’t know what went on here. (It) just never happened before, and we’ll be ready for it the next time.”
From the questions fired at White by the assembled reporters, it emerged that four out of the six fighters set to appear at the press conference were involved, and that an initial incident between main eventer Khamzat Chimaev and main card fighter Kevin Holland was the spark that led to a mass melee backstage, that White explained the promotion didn’t have the numbers to quell.
When it was put to White that the Chimaev-Holland skirmish was the catalyst for the chaos, White confirmed their incident was the spark, but that there were other factors at play, too.
“Yeah. There were multiple things going on at the same time,” he said.
“It wasn’t just one thing that erupted and it happened. There were multiple things going on at the same time.
“So there was security over there, there was no security over there.
“There was no security over there cause everybody was dealing with the other thing and, once it all started erupting, it was just a complete s**tshow.”
White revealed that the issue was exacerbated by the sheer number of people involved, with both Chimaev and Diaz bringing sizeable entourages with them to the event.
White also said that plans to have all the fighters on stage together – the usual format for a UFC presser – he considered bringing each matchup out, one at a time. But even that plan was considered too dangerous and the event was scrapped to preserve order and ensure the safety of everybody involved.
“What I didn’t want to do is have all these guys come out there together – it would have been bad,” White explained.
“The (Nate) Diaz camp showed up with 57 people. Khamzat’s team had 30-something people, and then you had multiple guys going on back here. It was crazy. It was absolutely nuts back here.”
White said he and his team would learn from the incident and implement measures to ensure there is no repeat at future events. He also confirmed that the UFC’s security staff is routinely ramped up closer to fight night, and that he had no concerns about the upcoming ceremonial weigh-ins, when the warring fighters will be in close proximity once again.
“This the fight business; these things happen,” White said.
“What we do is we look at how this happened today. Why were we unprepared for this? Why were we not able to manage this backstage better than we did? And we’ll be better next time we do a press conference. This will never happen to us again.”