On Wednesday, Khabib Nurmagomedov announced that he would not fight at UFC 249, opting instead to follow quarantine guidelines and remain in his home country of Russia.
The news is a massive blow to UFC president Dana White’s insistence that the card will go on amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. It also marks another disappointing cancellation of Nurmagomedov’s highly anticipated bout with Tony Ferguson.
The matchup that has been scheduled and canceled four times prior for various reasons and now sees a fifth cancellation, this time because of the coronavirus.
Ferguson wants Khabib stripped of UFC belt
Ferguson, who would have had a shot at Nurmagomedov’s lightweight title belt, is not here for Khabib’s prioritizing social distancing over mixed martial arts. He wants him stripped of his title after Nurmagomedov left his training camp in San Jose, California, to eventually return home to Russia.
“He was in Abu Dhabi, he had his chance to be able to come back before the borders were closed in Russia,” Ferguson told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani. “Decided to go back to Dagestan, did not finish his camp.
“The guy does not want to fight. He’s scared, he’s running. He should be stripped of his title.”
Khabib’s message on canceling fight
Nurmagomedov preemptively addressed criticism in an Instagram post announcing his decision while noting that countries and businesses around the world are shut down during the pandemic.
“Khabib is the only one relieved of all obligations and must demonstrate free will and train flying around the world, for the sake of fight?” Khabib wrote. ... “Khabib still has to fight, is that what you (sic) saying? Take care of yourself and put yourself in my shoes.”
Nurmagomedov flew from California to Abu Dhabi when the card was slated to be held there after regulators in the United States rejected hosting the event originally slated for Brooklyn. With travel restrictions being imposed, Nurmagomedov returned to Russia and will remain in his home province of Dagestan.
Ferguson told Helwani that Nurmagomedov is using COVID-19 as an excuse to skip out on the fight.
“He knew that he wasn’t cutting weight very good,” Ferguson said. “He said it already that he was having a hard time cutting weight, focusing and doing everything else like that.
“To me that right there, he’s running away. He ran away. He obviously knew what he could do to help save this card. He didn’t want to take any of those chances. Everybody’s taking risks but Khabib. He bailed out, man.”
As of Wednesday, there were more than 911,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and more than 45,000 deaths.
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