LAS VEGAS – With a sizable crowd buzzing in anticipation of pre-UFC 279 press conference at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, UFC president Dana White made an unprecedented decision to call off the proceedings just as they were getting underway.
Moments after making the announcement, White explained a chaotic backstage situation – involving at least four of UFC 279's featured athletes and their entourages, as well – was to blame and promised the promotion would ensure it never happens again.
"Let me just start off by saying I'm not going to tell everybody what went on back here, but, you know, it was multiple, crazy – you know, I don't even know what to call it," White told the gathered media, including MMA Underground, backstage. "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 – you know, 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. Just never happened before, and we'll be ready for it the next time."
Sources with knowledge of the incidents backstage indicated that UFC 279 headliner Khamzat Chimaev (11-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) and fellow main-card fighter Kevin Holland (23-7 MMA, 10-4 UFC) were involved in the initial conflict, and that it spiraled out of control from there.
White confirmed that was, indeed, the starting point but also explained that there were multiple incidents occurring at the same time, just as the press conference was set to begin. White initially tried to adjust the flow of the press conference and have just two fighters on stage at a time instead of the six that were scheduled to appear simultaneously but explained that the size of the entourages accompanying Chimaev and opponent Nate Diaz (20-13 MMA, 15-11 UFC) made even that impossible.
"What I didn't want to do is have all these guys come out there together – it would have been bad," White said. "The Diaz camp showed up with 57 people. Khamzat team had 30-something people, and then you had multiple guys going on back here. It was crazy. It was absolutely nuts back here.
"It wasn't just one thing that erupted and that happened. There were multiple things going on back here at the same time, so there was security over there. There was no security over here. There was no security over there because everybody was dealing with the other thing, and then once it all just started erupting, it was a complete sh-t show."
White said as of now, Saturday's UFC 279 event, which streams live on ESPN+ pay-per-view (10 p.m. ET) will go on as scheduled, but security will be beefed up for fight night, as well as Friday's official and ceremonial weigh-ins, including the usual presence of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers.
"We'll be better prepared for it than we are today," White said. "You know, we come here with a skeleton crew for the press conferences. There's not nearly as many people as there will be for the for the actual ceremonial weigh-ins. We'll have tons of security, metro – you know, it's a totally different ballgame."
White said he does not currently expect to levy any disciplinary actions to the involved participants but also vowed to make operational changes to ensure it never happens 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."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.