UFC 249 will go down as one of the most unique — and cursed — events in the history of the sport. Originally planned to be headlined by a fight between two men that had already been canceled by a series of increasingly bizarre circumstances, the card fell victim to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Rather than go down without a fight, UFC president Dana White vowed to forge ahead and hold the event as the world entered lockdown mode. After a failed attempt at a “secret location” event without fans, the UFC has announced the event will take place on, fulfilling White’s promise for the UFC to be “the first sport back” from the pandemic.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest questions fans may have about what has gone down and what is coming.
What was the original plan for UFC 249?
UFC 249 was to take place on April 18 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The main event was scheduled to be Khabib Nurmagomedov putting his lightweight title on the line against top challenger Tony Ferguson. It was the fifth time a bout between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson was scheduled.
Brooklyn was ruled out as the location for the event in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic caused travel and gathering restrictions and New York developed into the “hot spot” for the virus in America. But the UFC, after holding an event in Brazil with no fans in attendance on March 14, looked to keep the April 18 date in place by putting together a plan to hold the event in an “undisclosed location.”
Those plans were dashed when it was quickly revealed by Jeff Sherwood, founder of the popular MMA site Sherdog, that the event was to be held at Tachi Palace Casino Resort in California. The UFC was to operate as its own regulating body for the event, as they have in countries where athletic commissions are not present, and used the fact the casino was on Native American land to skirt larger government restrictions with an interim title fight between Ferguson and late-notice replacement Justin Gaethje as the main event.
After politicians reportedly called Disney and ESPN executives and pressured them as UFC’s exclusive pay-per-view distributor, theto the event.
What is the new plan and how can I watch?
UFC 249 is now set to go down on May 9 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida and air on ESPN before a main card on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
Florida has recently designated entertainment workers as under the umbrella of “essential workers.” This designation allowed WWE to continue forward with holding events without fans from their Performance Center training facility in Orlando. It also led many to speculate combat sports promotions would turn to “The Sunshine State” in an attempt to get fights going again.
The fact that the event will take place with full knowledge and support from the state and the UFC’s broadcast partners means it is almost certain to go ahead. The UFC has submitted safety protocols to the mayor of Jacksonville and the Florida State Boxing Commission said protocols are in place “to ensure the safety and well-being of all individuals who are helping to make these events possible.”
What happened to Fight Island?
The UFC’s controversial plan to hold international fights on an island they have “secured”So, no, UFC 249 will not take place on Fight Island. The purpose of the event is to allow the UFC to have a location in which they can fly international fighters while avoiding closed borders or ongoing travel restrictions.
“We really are putting an Octagon on the beach,” White said. “There’s going to be training facilities there for people. There are hotels. And the whole island is going to be built, all the infrastructure is going to be built for the UFC to come do fights there.”
How has the card changed?
If anything, the card has gotten better top to bottom, even as it lost the long-anticipated clash between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson.
The event has added a second title fight with Henry Cejudo putting his bantamweight title on the line against former longtime champion Dominick Cruz. Cejudo was scheduled to defend his title at UFC 250 against Jose Aldo in Brazil, but travel restrictions scrapped those plans and prevented Aldo from traveling to the United States for UFC 249. Cruz is returning from retirement, last fighting in December 2016 when he had a 13-fight winning streak snapped to lose the title.
Also added to the card is a heavyweight fight between Francis Ngannou and Jair Rozenstruik, a fight that was also scheduled as a main event before their planned March 28 date fell victim to the pandemic.
One other “big name” fight added to the card is a welterweight clash between Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone. The two met at lightweight in January 2013 with Pettis picking up the win. White stated this fight will serve as the “main event” of the preliminary card on ESPN.
There was one highly anticipated fight lost in the shuffle as a planned rematch between Jessica Andrade and Rose Namajunas was canceled after being scheduled for the “California version” of UFC 249. Namajunas had two family members die as a result of coronavirus and withdrew from the bout. Some other names that were originally scheduled to fight on UFC 249 in Brooklyn include Lyman Good (who contracted the coronavirus and has since recovered), Belal Muhammad, Cyril Gane, Ion Cutelaba, Gian Villante, Ben Rothwell, Ray Borg, Michael Johnson, Sijara Eubanks, Alexander Hernandez and Karl Roberson.
Two-division champion Amanda Nunes was rumored to defend her 145-pound title against Felicia Spencer on this new version of the fight card, but shot down the rumors this week saying she wants a full training camp before returning to action.
The scrambling for fighters willing to take fights — some as a result of prior cancellations, some just wanting to fight — has left the UFC with a strong lineup.
The card as announced by White is as follows:
- Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje — Interim lightweight title
- Henry Cejudo (c) vs. Dominick Cruz — Bantamweight title
- Francis Ngannou vs. Jair Rozenstruik — Heavyweights
- Calvin Kattar vs. Jeremy Stephens — Featherweights
- Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro — Heavyweights
- Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis — Welterweights
- Fabricio Werdum vs. Aleksei Oleinik — Heavyweights
- Carla Esparza vs. Michelle Waterson — Women’s strawweights
- Charles Rosa vs. Bryce Mitchell — Featherweights
- Ronaldo Souza vs. Uriah Hall — Middleweights
- Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price — Welterweights
- Ryan Spann vs. Sam Alvey — Light heavyweights
What happened to Khabib Nurmagomedov?
Ultimately, it would seem any fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson is cursed. The timeline of Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov looks like this:
- December 2015 — As the two are set to meet on the Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale card, Nurmagomedov suffers an injury forcing him out of the bout. Ferguson defeats replacement opponent Edson Barboza in the Fight of the Night.
- April 2016 — Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov is set as the main event of a UFC Fight Night card in Tampa. Days before the fight, Ferguson is forced out of the bout after having fluid and blood found in his lungs. Nurmagomedov easily defeats replacement opponent Darrell Horcher.
- March 2017 — The two are set for an interim lightweight title fight at UFC 209. Nurmagomedov’s weight cut goes bad forces him to be hospitalized. Ferguson did not fight on the event following Nurmagomedov’s hospitalization.
- April 2018 — A fourth attempt to put Nurmagomedov and Ferguson in the Octagon — this time in a fight for the vacant title at UFC 223 — ends when Ferguson trips over a wire in a studio doing pre-event media work, suffering a torn knee ligament. Nurmagomedov defeats replacement opponent Al Iaquinta to win the vacant lightweight championship.
- March 2020 — As UFC 249 is moved out of Brooklyn due to a global pandemic, confusion reigns as Nurmagomedov has not been notified of a location for the event and returns to his home country of Russia. As travel restrictions tightened, Nurmagomedov is forced out of the fight as he quarantines in Russia. Ferguson faces Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight championship.
With Nurmagomedov unable to return to the United States, Gaethje represented the top contender to meet Ferguson for an interim belt, with the winner seemingly set to face Nurmagomedov later in 2020 to unify the titles.