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Ali Abdelaziz: Khabib Nurmagomedov training unchanged, expects UFC 249 in New York

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Khabib Nurmagomedov
Khabib Nurmagomedov
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov remains in training camp for a UFC 249 headliner against Tony Ferguson, his coach and manager told MMA Fighting.

Despite the fast-growing coronavirus pandemic and a closed-door policy currently in place at American Kickboxing Academy, where Nurmagomedov has been training for the long-anticipated fight, the champ hasn’t altered his routine.

“We’re training, eating, drinking – everything is normal.”,” Abdelaziz told MMA Fighting.

A request for comment with Ferguson’s management company, Ballengee Group, wasn’t immediately returned. On Thursday, the UFC said it is taking comprehensive steps to deal with the pandemic, making UFC Brasilia a closed-doors event and moving UFC Columbus and UFC Portland to the APEX center in Las Vegas.

Abdelaziz reacted with exasperation at questions about the potential threats to the champ’s health, and the possibility of a change in venue for the April 18 pay-per-view event, which is currently scheduled to take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

”If the UFC hasn’t told me that, you can’t call and tell me that, because it makes no sense,” the manager said about a potential move. “As far as I know, Khabib’s fight is in Brooklyn.”

The UFC has made an event scheduled for Saturday in Brasilia, Brazil, a closed-door affair with no fans. The promotion reportedly is moving events in Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Ore., to its Apex arena in Las Vegas, though official word on its coronavirus plans and strategy is still a question mark despite several other sports leagues canceling event plans or pausing regular season play.

On Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned gatherings of over 500 people in the state, largely following other states that have moved swiftly to stop the spread of the deadly virus. So far, there’s no indication UFC 249 will be moved, but several industry veterans and reporters have pointed to the APEX as a safe haven should the promotion opt against holding the event in an empty arena.

Such a move would appear to clash with a previous Nurmagomedov declaration not to fight again in Nevada unless he received an apology from the state’s athletic commission. The commission raised his ire when it withheld half of his disclosed purse in the wake of an infamous brawl with Conor McGregor’s teammates immediately after UFC 229; several of his teammates were also fined and suspended for their roles in the incident.

Nurmagomedov’s coach, Javier Mendez, isn’t sure whether the current situation would prompt the champ to change his stance.

”For him, it’s more about what’s in his heart and what’s right,” Mendez said. “It’s all about that. Who knows under the circumstances if he’ll change. He might. He might, but I don’t know. I can’t speak for him.

”I do know he’s very strong in his beliefs. I do know that he’s made the comment that he won’t fight there (until the Nevada State Athletic Commission apologizes). Things change. This virus changes everything.”

As far as Mendez is concerned, nothing should be off the table when discussing how to proceed in light of the pandemic, which has infected more than 128,000 people worldwide and killed more than 4,700. He expects the UFC to come up with a solution that will allow the company to continue live event promotion. It might take place in New York or Las Vegas, he said, but business will go on.

At UFC 248 earlier this month, UFC President Dana White vowed not to let the virus affect the promotion’s plans, and on Thursday, he declared the promotion is taking aggressive steps to protect fighters’ health and safety.

The way Mendez sees it, it’s not realistic to hold anyone to their previous positions when discussing the future of the pandemic.

”Things that he says now are not necessarily things that are going to happen,” he said. “That’s what he said, but what’s he going to say now? Whether we like it or not, we can’t hold Khabib anybody to their word on what they said before something like this happens.”