Reigning UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was expected to defend his 155-pound title opposite Tony Ferguson last month at UFC 249, but COVID-19 travel restrictions nixed those plans and paved the way for Ferguson to challenge Justin Gaethje for the interim strap tomorrow night (Sat., May 9, 2020) live on ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV) from inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
Nurmagomedov — who will face the winner of Ferguson vs. Gaethje as soon as this July — received some harsh criticism for uprooting his UFC 249 training camp from California to Russia and then being unable to leave Moscow during coronavirus quarantine. While it’s hard to blame the champion for anything that has transpired over the past six weeks the MMA world has not been kind to “Eagle.” Not only did Ferguson call for the champion to be stripped of the lightweight title amidst his UFC 249 absence, but Conor McGregor also blasted Khabib for pulling out.
Things have been extremely difficult over the past two months but let’s try not to blame Khabib for being unable to fight at UFC 249. After all, UFC president Dana White says mistakes were made by everybody involved.
“I’m sure you saw today, Khabib posted, ‘Hey, as soon as Ramadan is over, I’m ready to roll,’” White told BT Sport. “There was a lot of questioning Khabib, people were saying ‘Oh he got trapped in Russia’ or whatever; what he said is absolutely true. None of us saw coming what happened and how fast it was rapidly changing and the world was literally changing by the day. We all made some bad decisions that got him stuck in Moscow. It wasn’t just him, we all did. I take responsibility for that, too.
“It happened, and you know what we get out of that? We get Gaethje versus Ferguson, which is gonna be absolutely ridiculous.”
With Khabib on the back burner for now the promotion is solely focused on its return from COVID-19 quarantine this weekend for UFC 249. It’s a massive move for the premier MMA organization as all other majors sports entities remain shut down, but White and company are hoping their efforts pay off for the entire sports world.
“I would imagine that live sports are watching us right now saying, ‘Let’s see how this thing plays out for them and maybe we’ll take some risks,’” White said. “Nobody ever wants to take risks. Nobody really wants to be first. Nobody wants to assume the responsibility of being first. My team, my athletes, we’re built for this sh*t.”
We are all hoping that UFC’s return goes down without a hitch and the promotion can resume full activity moving forward. Once that becomes official and everyone involved is convinced that events will be staged safely, Khabib can start preparing for his return to action later this year.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 249 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+/Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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