clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s manager defends UFC 249 moving ahead as scheduled: ‘These guys want to fight’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

As the debate rages on regarding UFC 249 moving ahead as scheduled in the middle of a global pandemic, one prominent manager is defending the organization’s choice to put on an event while giving the athletes a chance to perform and earn a paycheck.

Ali Abdelaziz, who represents UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov as well as several other fighters competing on April 18, told MMA Fighting on Wednesday that he absolutely supports the organization putting on the card, even if it has to happen behind closed doors as the number of coronavirus infections grows every day.

“I think the UFC or any other promotion who has fighters under contract, they have to find a solution,” Abdelaziz said. “Because these guys, the fighters, are independent contractors. They do not get a salary. Some of these guys make $10k and $10k, $12k and $12k, $15k and $15k and they live paycheck to paycheck. This is how they make money and this has been going on for 20 years.

“For you as a media member to criticize or a coach or a fighter, whoever you are, if you’re a fighter and don’t want to fight, that’s fine. Don’t fight. If the UFC is willing and Dana White is willing to put his reputation and money and getting potentially f*cking sued, put that on the line and put on a fight and the fighters are willing to fight, I don’t think anybody has the f*cking right to tell them not to put on the fight.”

While almost every major sport across the globe has been shut down in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, UFC president Dana White has been adamant about promoting UFC 249 on time without any further delays. The UFC already postponed three cards due to the pandemic but White says he’s determined to return on April 18.

Not a single fighter who is scheduled for UFC 249 has voiced concerns about competing at the event, although Abdelaziz says the promotion has given every athlete the chance to bow out if they don’t feel comfortable.

“Dana White reached out to me and said ‘if any of your fighters need money to support their families, reach out to me, and they don’t have to fight if they don’t want to,” Abdelaziz said. “For me, that means a lot. I want to go ahead and say that because that’s the truth. He didn’t have to say that.

“He’s telling me if any of my fighters need money, reach out to him. I haven’t yet but I’m sure I will.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, unemployment rates across the U.S. have skyrocketed but fighters are in a unique position because as independent contractors, they don’t receive a weekly or monthly salary. Instead, fighters get paid when they compete and Abdelaziz says every athlete he’s spoken to on his roster just wants the chance to earn their money.

“It’s about the fighters, who need to provide for their families,” Abdelaziz said. “They need to pay rent. They need to pay bills. Why can we not put on a safe event? I believe Dana White can put on a safe event. I believe Hunter [Campbell], Sean Shelby, Mick [Maynard], Dr. [Jeff] Davidson, all these guys, they’re going to take the right measurement to put on a safe event. I trust them.

“Some of the people who are sitting behind the computer saying they can’t but they’re the reason we’re fighting today.”

Just before many state governments in the U.S. began banning mass gatherings, the UFC promoted a card in Brasilia, Brazil behind closed doors without any fans in attendance. Abdelaziz says that the UFC took every possible precaution including keeping the fighters separated at the host hotel and then bussing them to the arena in smaller groups to ensure the total number of people in any one room was kept low,

He believes the same kind of plans would be in place for UFC 249 to ensure the athletes would be as safe as possible given the current climate.

“If they can put it on in an arena with no fans, have the fighters at the hotel and bring them one by one to the arena with their corner men, let them do it,” Abdelaziz said. “Let them do it. They’re the ones putting their reputations on the line. But if you’re not the fighters, you should not talk. This is my opinion. If any fighters don’t want to fight, that’s fine.

“These guys want to fight. These guys have been in camp for two or three months. I’ve got guys fighting April 18 and April 11 and March 28. Marvin Vettori f*cking traveled to London and came back and didn’t fight. Listen, I’m writing checks to some of these guys and it’s fine. Because these guys have been paying my bills for the last 10 years so if I have to help pay their bills, I don’t care. I’m going to do it. But I’m telling you, the UFC is giving opportunities for the fighters to make money.”

While the fighters competing at the UFC Brasilia card were not tested for COVID-19, heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou revealed just recently that the UFC provided him with a test so he could potentially fight at the upcoming show on April 18.

White has refused to say if all athletes will receive testing for the coronavirus but Ngannou believes that will be the plan after the UFC facilitated his test.

“There’s nobody out there that has medical protocol better than the UFC,” Abdelaziz added. “It’s impossible. I think MMA in general, the protocol from MRI’s, EKG, medicals, all this stuff, and remember one of the UFC’s doctors, he’s an emergency doctor and he’s at every event. He’s going to check everybody. Francis Ngannou got tested by the UFC and it came back negative, thank god. They are helping people anyway.

Ultimately, Abdelaziz feels like the complaints about UFC 249 really boil down to personal problems with White or perhaps the entire UFC rather than truly showing concern about the spread of the coronavirus.

“I just think if you have problems with Dana, you have problems with the UFC, fine. But don’t use this to get back at him,” Abdelaziz said. “Dana’s a passionate guy and he said some of the weakest motherf*ckers in the game cover this sport and I’m not saying all of them but 90 percent of them are weak.

“They have personal problems with Dana and they want to get back at him and they use it for clickbait.”

All of Abdelaziz’s fighters competing at UFC 249, which includes Nurmagomedov, Islam Makhachev and Sijara Eubanks, are training and preparing to fight on April 18. As he awaits word on the location for the fight, Abdelaziz admits he doesn’t agree with White on everything but he can’t fault the UFC president for standing his ground when it comes the upcoming event as well as future cards that are expected to continue during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Nobody can tell no fighter they can’t fight,” Abdelaziz said. “Nobody can make the fighters fight. The UFC can offer you a fight. I’m going to tell you something, you can say whatever you want with the man, we go up and down, sometimes we don’t agree but the man never lied to me. If he never lied to me, I’m going to believe everything he says. Simple.”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting