If Dana White is successful, UFC 249 will take place in some form on April 18 at a location yet to be named. But despite the steadfast ambition from the UFC president to carry on despite federal and local government advisories preventing large gatherings amid this global pandemic, the future remains largely uncertain.
With nearly all of professional sports at a sudden standstill following the coronavirus outbreak, it’s too early to tell what that will mean for the UFC’s big-name fighters and how a layoff under such inopportune circumstances will affect them.
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White hasn’t promoted a fight card since UFC Brasilia took place in front of an empty arena on March 14. A trio of Fight Night cards over the next three weeks were subsequently canceled. Even if White is able to pull off UFC 249, guidelines have changed so drastically in response to the disease that it’s difficult to predict whether he will be allowed to continue.
Given that uncertainty and the possibility that most fighters won’t return until the second half of the year (or longer), let’s take a look at which UFC stars have the potential to be most affected by the current circumstances.
The reigning and unbeaten UFC lightweight champion has seen his name dragged through the mud a bit by rival Tony Ferguson after Nurmagomedov chose to stay in his native of Russia and not take part in their scheduled UFC 249 main event, largely because White was unable to definitively declare a site.
Nurmagomedov had left the U.S. where he was training to go to Dubai, where he claims he was told by UFC the fight would be staged. He and his team were denied entry due to the virus outbreak and flew home to Dagestan waiting on an update. Eventually, citing the health of himself and his family, “The Eagle” made a firm decision.
The champion’s observance of Ramadan in late April, which includes heavy fasting, means that he has declared a return no earlier than August. What that means for Nurmagomedov is that a likely record-setting payday in late 2020 in a rematch against Conor McGregor could be pushed back. Nurmagomedov also may find himself a new opponent when he returns, shouldagainst Ferguson and claim an interim title in the process.
Nurmagomedov (28-0) is just 31 but has missed long periods of time in the past, including 2014-16 because of a knee injury, and other delays caused by illness, injury and Ramadan. Given that he has talked often about retiring at his peak after just a few more fights, the layoff could alter his timeline and keep him out close to a full year.
The UFC light heavyweight champion could potentially benefit from the sport taking an extended break given the plea deal last week that sawfor the talented fighter.
It remains to be seen whether the 32-year-old Jones will face any disciplinary sanctions from UFC after being lucky to avoid jail time given his history of multiple DWI offenses, failed drug tests and a 2015 felony charge for hit and run.
Still, the worst place it would seem Jones (26-1, 1 NC) should be headed next is back into the Octagon. His recent arrest for driving while intoxicating and firing a loaded weapon in public are huge warning signs that something internally remains off for Jones in ways that go deeper than a dependence to alcohol.
Giving Jones the time to figure out his issues and get help mentally before worrying about a physical return to fighting — especially should UFC not strip him of the title for a fourth time — would only be helped by the fact that there is no timetable for any fighter in terms of scheduling a return outside of UFC 249.
At 41, the former two-division champion has said publicly multiple times that there is just one fight left that matters to him — a trilogy with heavyweight king Stipe Miocic, who stopped Cormier last August in their rematch.
Should fights get completely delayed until the end of the year due to the outbreak, Cormier could ultimately miss his window of staying fit and mentally ready to compete, especially considering he has talked about retirement for over a year.
A victory over Miocic would allow D.C. to walk away as the greatest heavyweight champion in UFC history in the eyes of many, along with a seat at the table of the MMA G.O.A.T.s. But with Miocic working as a full-time firefighter and paramedic during the pandemic and recovering from eye surgery at the same time, making the fight isn’t a guarantee.