The undisputed UFC lightweight champion has been training for several months in anticipation of his long awaited showdown with Ferguson but the coronavirus pandemic has thrown everything surrounding the fight into upheaval.
The original location for the fight — the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. — was ruled out a few weeks ago. UFC president Dana White has promised a new location and venue will be secured in time for the fight but with just over two weeks left to go until the event is supposed to take place, it’s making it really hard for Nurmagomedov to see a way this card moves forward as scheduled.
“Just a couple of hours ago, I finished my training, because I have to be ready. It’s why I’m here. It’s why I signed contract,” Nurmagomedov told ESPN on Thursday.
“They don’t have a location. Why I have to fly to U.S.? Why can’t I fly to Japan or Asia or Africa. Maybe they can make it in Europe. Maybe they can make it in Middle East. I don’t know where I’m going to fight. Why fly to the U.S. For what? This is not my mistake. Coronavirus come to us. I don’t bring coronavirus. This is not my job.”
Nurmagomedov initially flew to Abu Dhabi because he says White told him “99 percent” the fight would take place there. Four hours after he landed in the country, Nurmagomedov says Abu Dhabi shut down their borders and stopped allowing non-citizens to enter as a precaution to slow the spread of the deadly disease.
He then returned home to Dagestan and then days later Russia issued a travel ban for anybody coming into or out of the country because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now with the travel ban still in place, Nurmagomedov has no way out but that doesn’t matter much because the UFC still hasn’t secured a location for the fight.
“Is April 18 possibility?” Nurmagomedov said. “Every day I train. Every day, morning and night. I have a gym in my house. But right now, I am one of the biggest stars in the UFC. I am the undefeated, undisputed UFC champion. This is a not a regular fight. How is it 16 days before the fight and I don’t know the location? What is this? This is not professional.
“I have to fly, I have to [get over] jet lag, I have to [adjust to a] different climate. I have to cut weight, I have to focus, I have to finish my training camp. Too much stuff.”
Immediately after Nurmagomedov cast doubts that he would be able to compete at UFC 249, Ferguson said that he was running scared and the UFC should strip him of the lightweight title.
Nurmagomedov couldn’t help but scoff at that suggestion considering he did everything possible to remain ready for the fight on April 18 but the coronavirus pandemic had other ideas.
“He’s just a stupid guy,” Nurmagomedov said about Ferguson. “OK, strip me if this is my mistake. Last time, April 2018, it was his mistakes. Right now, this is not Khabib’s mistake. This is coronavirus. This is two different things. ... this is completely different.”
In the wake of Nurmagomedov potentially dropping out of the UFC 249 main event, lightweight contender Justin Gaethje has been approached about potentially stepping into face Ferguson on April 18.
Even if that happens, Nurmagomedov knows that the winner will still be sitting behind him in the division because he’s already proven that he is the best lightweight in the world.
“When I’m in the UFC, Tony always is going to be the interim champion, and always, Conor [McGregor] is going to be No. 2 while I’m here,” Nurmagomedov said. “These guys are going to be No. 2. I’m going to be No. 1.
“These guys are not on my level. This is good. Make the interim title. Tony deserves the interim title. Conor is No. 2, and everybody knows who’s the best.”
Regardless of his desire to compete, Nurmagomedov knows he’s stuck in an impossible situation with travel bans set up by several different countries where the UFC could potentially hold an event. He’s still training and preparing but obviously Nurmagomedov doesn’t seem confident that UFC 249 will be moving ahead as scheduled.
“Right now, if they give me a location, if I can come out from Russia and go to any country, I’m going to fight,” Nurmagomedov said. “One-hundred percent, I’m going to fight. Just give me location.
“I’m gonna fight, but don’t tell me I have to fight nowhere. Where? Fly to U.S. For what? If they say we have a show, of course, I’m going to go. But right now, even if I want, I cannot go out from Russia. I cannot go in to U.S.”