UFC 249 has a new main event.
With lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov out, Justin Gaethje has been tapped as a replacement to face Tony Ferguson in the headliner of the April 18 pay-per-view event, and the new fight will serve as an interim title fight.
UFC President Dana White confirmed the news Monday on his official Instagram page. Multiple sources close to the situation also confirmed the fight news to MMA Fighting after the fight was first rumored more than a week ago.
As White noted, the pay-per-view event still doesn’t have a confirmed location, though he said one would be announced on Monday.
After traveling home to Dagestan with a travel restriction in place from the Russian government, Nurmagomedov was unable to remain in the matchup against Ferguson in the fifth attempt to make that fight happen. Once Nurmagomedov was confirmed out of the event, the UFC immediately began looking for alternatives.
Gaethje now takes his place as he seeks to win the fight against Ferguson, which would move him on step closer towards his ultimate goal to capture the undisputed UFC lightweight title.
The bout is Ferguson’s second opportunity to become an interim champion after he defeated Kevin Lee at UFC 216 to capture the belt.
While Gaethje’s home state of Colorado has seen gyms close as part of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the former World Series of Fighting champion told MMA Fighting that he was still training on a regular basis in anticipation of his next bout being booked in the UFC.
“The gyms are closed but I went in, we had four people,” Gaethje said. “Me, Drew Dober and both of our coaches so it was four people in the gym. I think as long as you have under 10 people. I’m not really sure what the rules are. They definitely closed all the gyms to the public.
“It’s been pretty normal for me. I go to the office. I have a treadmill downstairs so I can just put the work in on the treadmill. That’s the good thing about fighting. Really, it’s just cardio and it’s easy to get cardio and trying not to get lazy and trying not to eat all the food we got stocked up.”
With three consecutive knockout wins on his current resume, Gaethje attempts to earn the biggest victory of his career at UFC 249.
Ferguson has won 12 consecutive fights in the division — tied for the longest current streak alongside Nurmagomedov — and now he’ll seek No. 13 against Gaethje on April 18 at UFC 249.