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Dublin: 9°C Saturday 31 October 2020

Curse continues as Khabib v Ferguson nears cancellation for fifth time

Sixth time’s a charm?

Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Image: John Locher

IN NEWS THAT will surprise not a single MMA fan, the long, long-awaited showdown between UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson is looking like it will take a while longer before it finally comes to fruition.

Their 18 April UFC 249 headliner had been scheduled to take place behind closed doors at an as-of-yet-confirmed location, but it is on the brink of being cancelled for a fifth time with Nurmagomedov currently unable to leave Russia in order to compete.

When the original host city, New York, was ruled out due to the coronavirus pandemic, UFC president Dana White said the marquee event would “99.9%” take place elsewhere. Speaking on Instagram Live today, Nurmagomedov claimed his team had been informed that the fight would “99%” be moved to Dubai, and so he flew to the United Arab Emirates two weekends ago to continue with his preparation. However, the UAE announced that it would be closing its borders, forcing Nurmagomedov to fly home to Russia to await further instruction.

But Russian authorities confirmed on Saturday that they would shut their own country’s borders as of today, meaning the UFC lightweight champion is stuck at home in Dagestan and opponent Ferguson can’t get into Russia in order to challenge for his 155-pound title.

“We were training at AKA [American Kickboxing Academy in California] without any information regarding the fight — where and how is it going to happen,” Nurmagomedov said, as translated by Russia Today. “Then the UFC told us that the fight 100% isn’t happening in the States. And they said that 99% it will happen in [the United Arab] 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 19 or 20 [March]. I’ll have to check. But when we landed in Emirates, we learned that they are going to close [the] borders and no one will be able to leave or fly in with [the] exception of 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.

“So now I am hearing that they are looking to organise it with or without me,” Nurmagomeodov continued. “OK, go ahead. 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% isn’t happening in the USA, and even if it’s not happening in the Emirates, it will happen on this side of [the] Atlantic. We discussed everything with the UFC. By that time, I already spent five weeks of hard training at 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.”

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ESPN are reporting that top contender Justin Gaethje is being earmarked to replace Nurmagomedov and face Ferguson should the event still go ahead.

The UFC have on four previous occasions scheduled Khabib-Ferguson only to see it fall through.

Nurmagomedov withdrew with a rib injury in 2015, Ferguson had a lung issue in 2016, and the American developed a kidney problem while trying to make weight for a fight in 2017.

The pair were then scheduled to square off in April 2018 but Ferguson suffered a freak accident six days beforehand, tearing his knee ligament after tripping over a cable at a media event.

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