UFC 249 Could Move Forward Without Khabib Nurmagomedov, Champ Stuck in Russia

Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson before one of their several scheduled encounters. Credit: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog

The fight very well may be cursed. After falling through four times previously, Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson, expected to be the crown jewel of UFC 249, may be off once again.

News broke last week that Nurmagomedov had returned to his native Russia (specifically Dagestan) to complete training for the fight. From there, rumors swirled that he had flown to Abu Dhabi, one of the anticipated locales for the card, which UFC President Dana White has vowed will move forward, despite the planet being on lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

However, Nurmagomedov has now clarified that he remains in Russia — and is essentially stuck there due to a travel ban. Speaking on Instagram Live, he also indicated that the UFC may be looking to move forward without him, by having another opponent face Ferguson.

“We were training in the [American Kickboxing Academy] without any information regarding the fight, where and how is it going to happen,” Nurmagomedov said (translation via RT Sport). “Then the UFC told us that the fight 100% isn’t happening in the States. And they said that 99% 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,” the lightweight champion continued. “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.”

Which makes it rather hard to find a venue willing to host the event. However, that’s just what the UFC intends to do, whether it’s an Indian casino, grain silo, or offshore oil rig, it seems. UFC 249: International Waters is starting to sound less like a joke and more like an inevitability, at this point.

Even more incredible is that, despite Khabib being stuck in Russia, he believes the UFC will soldier on without him.

“So now I am hearing that they are looking to organize it with or without me. OK, go ahead,” he said on Instagram Live. “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.”

Rival Bellator MMA paid its fighters in the wake of cancelling Bellator 241 earlier this month. However, the UFC has yet to follow suit for any of the three cards it has so far had fall through during the pandemic.

“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 revealed. “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 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,” he finished.

This is one obstacle he may not be able to overcome. Travel restrictions around the globe are making international travel nearly impossible — which is exactly the right response in a pandemic. If the UFC intends to move forward with a bastardized UFC 249 card, they’re likely to let down a legion of fans who have eagerly anticipated Khabib vs. Tony for years.

The coronavirus pandemic, meanwhile, marches on, with its peak expected to be several weeks away — potentially around the time UFC 249 takes place on April 18, should it move forward as planned. Nearly 750,000 people around the globe have been infected. To date, there has been over 35,000 deaths attributed to the virus (SARS-CoV-2) and the resulting disease (COVID-19).

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