Khabib Nurmagomedov might be replaced by Justin Gaethje.
Early Monday morning, the undefeated UFC lightweight champion revealed that he was stuck in his home country of Dagestan after the Russian government issued a travel ban due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Nurmagomedov had returned home to finish his training camp in anticipation of his fight against Tony Ferguson happening in Abu Dhabi on April 18.
Unfortunately, the restrictions may prevent Nurmagomedov from traveling anywhere, which has now forced the promotion to begin looking at alternate plans to fill the main event slot at UFC 249.
According to sources speaking to MMA Fighting on Monday, Gaethje has been tapped as a possible replacement to step in on short notice to face Ferguson. At this time, the fight hasn’t been accepted or signed by either fighter but this is the direction the UFC is moving in a last second scramble to try and save the event.
ESPN initially reported the news.
Gaethje told MMA Fighting last week that he’s been training and attempting to keep his work schedule as normal as possible even in the midst of the global pandemic.
“The gyms are closed but I went in, we had four people. Me, Drew Dober and both of our coaches so it was four people in the gym,” Gaethje said. “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.”
If Nurmagomedov is actually ruled out of the event, it would be the fifth time a scheduled fight against Ferguson has been scrapped.
The two lightweights have been matched up four times previously with injuries and weight cutting issues ultimately causing the fights to be cancelled. Now it appears a travel ban in the middle of a global pandemic might doom Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson for a fifth time.
In addition to the UFC attempting to secure Gaethje for the main event, a heavyweight fight between Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik is also in discussion to serve as the new co-main event on the card. That fight was originally expected to take place at UFC on ESPN 8 but the entire card was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
A strawweight fight between former champions Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade is still expected to take place at UFC 249 as well.
UFC 249 is still expected to move forward as scheduled, although a location for the event has not been determined this time.