UFC president Dana White is dead set on making UFC 249 happen on April 18, but it appears that his hopes of keeping the lightweight championship between titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov and challenger Tony Ferguson intact have all but vanished.
White has insisted that he has several locations as options for the April 18 affair, but Russia's recent decision to close its borders as a means to help contain the spread of covid-19 all but ensures that Nurmagomedov will be unable to fight Ferguson as planned.
This would mark the fifth time the bout has been scheduled and then derailed.
Khabib explains his move back to Russia and the lockdown
"We were training in the AKA without any information regarding the fight, where and how is it going to happen," Nurmagomedov said, as translated by RT Sport. "Then the UFC told us that the fight 100-percent isn’t happening in the States. And they said that 99-percent that it will happen in 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 19th or 20th, I’ll have to check. But when we landed in Emirates we learned that they are going to close borders. And no one will be able to leave or fly in, with exception for 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. Same like in the States, same like in Europe, Emirates, everywhere. The whole world is in quarantine right now."
International flights were grounded on Friday in Russia. On Saturday, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin declared that the country would close its borders on Monday. Nurmagomedov is now stranded in his home country and the UFC has no realistic way to put him and Ferguson in the same location on April 18.
With options severely limited, it would appear that the UFC would have to organize any April 18 bouts with fighters that are already within the U.S. borders and perhaps even more limited than that. The New York Tri-State area is currently under a travel advisory that limits all non-essential travel.
UFC 249 could feature Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje
Officials are reportedly working to move ahead with UFC 249 on April 18, but with a possible main event between Tony Ferguson and fellow contender Justin Gaethje. ESPN first reported the possibility of Ferguson vs. Gaethje.
"So now I am hearing that they are looking to organize it with or without me. Okay, go ahead," Khabib said. "Everyone should follow the laws. I am not against it, I know that fighters need to feed their families and pay their bills. I know how hard it is for the fighter. Unless they fight they aren’t getting any money.
"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. But I am here not on my own will. The UFC told me that this fight 100-percent isn’t happening in the USA, and even if it’s not happening in the Emirates, it will happen on this side of Atlantic. We discussed everything with the UFC. By that time I already spent 5 weeks of hard training in the AKA.
"Now I don’t really know what’s going on. It’s really hard to train and cut your weight when the whole world is locked down and you don’t know what you are preparing for. But it’s not the first time I face obstacles in my career."