Nurmagomedov stuck in Russia; UFC 249 could go on without him


UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is undefeated in MMA. (Andre Penner/AP)

Khabib Nurmagomedov said during an Instagram live stream Monday that he is currently stranded in his native Dagestan and unable to leave Russia due to border closures and travel restrictions stemming from the global COVID-19 pandemic, which means his anticipated UFC 249 fight with Tony Ferguson is once again not likely to happen on its scheduled date.

UFC president Dana White has insisted in recent weeks that UFC 249 will go on as planned on April 18 at a yet-to-be-announced location, although not in its original location of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Nurmagomedov explained that he had been training at the American Kickboxing Academy in California for 10 days with no information regarding where, how or in what format the fight would happen.

“With fans? Without fans? We had a lot of unanswered questions,” the UFC lightweight champion said via an RT Sport translation. “Then the UFC told us that the fight 100 per cent isn’t happening in the United States. And they said that 99 per cent that it will happen in Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates).

“After talking to the UFC, we decided to fly over to the Emirates a month before the fight (on the 19th or 20th of March as he recalled) but when we landed in the Emirates, we learned that they are going to close borders and no one will be able to leave or fly in, unless they are a citizen. So, we had to fly back to Russia.

“Currently, I am in Dagestan and I am training and preparing every day, although I don’t know what am I preparing for, for what fight, because after we came to Russia we also learned that the borders are going to be shut. Same like in the States, same like in Europe, Emirates, everywhere. The whole world is in quarantine right now. … I’m isolated like all of you watching this live feed.”

Nurmagomedov added that he is hearing the UFC is now looking to organize the event somewhere in the U.S. with or without him.

According to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, the UFC is attempting to have Ferguson fight No. 4-ranked lightweight contender Justin Gaethje on short notice though negotiations are fluid.

Nurmagomedov explained he isn’t against the UFC moving on and holding this event without him because he understands that other fighters on the roster need to feed their families and pay their bills and they get paid only when they fight.

Ferguson tweeted early Monday that Nurmagomedov is “hiding in Russia” and told him to not “use it as an excuse to back out” of the fight.

“Tony needs an opponent for his fight, but I am here in Russia not on my own will,” Nurmagomedov added. “It’s been really hard to train lately because when you’re preparing for the most important fight of your life and you don’t know whether the fight till happen, it’s very difficult when the whole world is quarantined. Cutting 25 pounds, staying focussed and staying in shape is no easy task.”

After hosting a Fight Night event in Brazil behind closed doors, the UFC announced earlier this month they had officially postponed three upcoming events but UFC 249 was not among them.

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