While UFC president Dana White has vowed to move forward with UFC 249 — and the planned main event between lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson — in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, the logistical hurdles have increased by the day. Now, it seems the champ may be out of the event just weeks ahead of the planned April 18 date.
Speaking on Instagram Live, Nurmagomedov said he is in Russia after traveling to Abu Dhabi, and Russian officials seem ready to follow the lead of Moscow and enter lockdown with travel restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“The UFC told us that the fight 100% isn’t happening in the States,” Nurmagomedov said. “And they said that 99% that it will happen in (the United Arab) Emirates — Abu Dhabi. After talking to the UFC, we decided to fly over to the Emirates a month before the fight. I don’t remember the exact date — it was (March) 19 or 20. I’ll have to check.
“But when we landed in Emirates, we learned that they are going to close [the] borders and no one will be able to leave or fly in with [the] exception of residents. So, we had to fly back to Russia. Currently, I am in Dagestan and I am training and preparing every day, although I don’t know what am I preparing for, because after we came to Russia we also learned that the borders are going to be locked.”
UFC 249 was originally planned to go down at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was the fifth attempt to put Ferguson and Nurmagomedov in the Octagon together.
Nurmagomedov is now saying the event may move forward, even if he is not able to participate. And Ferguson may remain on the card as the UFC explores last minute replacements. That may be difficult to pull together as lockdowns through the world have also led to widespread gym closures.
“I am even hearing that they are looking for an opponent for Tony, because he is in the States and I am here in Russia,” Nurmagomedov said. “But I am here not on my own will. The UFC told me that this fight 100% isn’t happening in the USA, and even if it’s not happening in the Emirates, it will happen on this side of (the) Atlantic. We discussed everything with the UFC. By that time, I already spent five weeks of hard training at AKA. Now I don’t really know what’s going on.”
Ferguson saw Nurmagomedov’s news and reacted in a way only Ferguson can.
“April 18 is getting close [Khabib] and you’re hiding in Russia. Travel bans will not prevent me from whoppin’ that ass. Don’t use it as an excuse to back out. You have been sent many locations, send us one.”
Multiple fighters have offered up their services should UFC need to make a quick adjustment just three weeks away from the tentative date of the event, including rising star and “BMF” champion, Jorge Masvidal. According to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, UFC briefly looked into making Masvidal vs. welterweight champion Kamaru Usman for April 18, but it is looking unlikely to happen.
Also tossing his hat in the ring is former interim champion Dustin Poirier, who is fresh off of hip surgery last year. Poirier reached out to Helwani and noted, “I’ll fight if they call me! I’m always down for some madness.” Poirier was reportedly being targeted for a matchup with Dan Hooker in May in San Diego.