Despite Dana White’s insistence in recent weeks that the Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov fight will go on, increasingly strict travel restrictions and other precautionary measures designed to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic appear to have the fight on the brink of cancellation.
During an Instagram Live interview on March 30, Nurmagomedov said that a recently invoked travel ban in Russia will prevent him from traveling anywhere else to fight. Nurmagomedov said that while the UFC’s primary plan was “99 percent” likely to move the UFC 249 card to Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates is also in the process of closing its borders. On April 1, Nurmagomedov followed up by saying he’d be staying in quarantine like the rest of the world has been advised to do, all but confirming the fight’s cancellation.
Nurmagomedov-Ferguson was originally scheduled to headline UFC 249 on April 18 in Brooklyn. This was the fifth time the UFC has tried to book a fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson, with the previous four fights falling through because of various circumstances including injuries to both men.
Here’s a timeline of events for Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson over the years.
Aug. 21, 2015: UFC confirms that it has booked a meeting of top lightweight contenders Nurmagomedov and Ferguson for the Dec. 11 finale of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 22. Nurmagomedov is 22-0 with six UFC wins but has not competed in a year because of a knee injury. Ferguson is riding a six-fight win streak.
Oct. 30, 2015: A rib injury suffered in training forces Nurmagomedov out of the bout. The Dagestani takes to Instagram to apologize to fans in a post that says, “I’m not sure if I will ever come back.”
Dec. 11, 2015: Ferguson finishes Nurmagomedov’s replacement, Edson Barboza, in the second round via D’Arce choke, earning his third straight performance of the night bonus. Afterward, Ferguson calls for a title fight against champion Rafael dos Anjos.
Jan. 26, 2016: After matching dos Anjos in a superfight with featherweight champ Conor McGregor, the UFC books Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov for the second time, slating it for a UFC on Fox event to be held in Tampa, Florida, on April 16. (Dos Anjos-McGregor falls apart Feb. 23 when it’s announced that RDA has broken a foot in training.)
April 5, 2016: Ferguson is the one dropping out on Nurmagomedov this time, citing an issue with his lung. “I Will Heal Up,” he writes on Twitter. “I Will be Back.”
— Tony Ferguson (@TonyFergusonXT) April 5, 2016
April 16, 2016: Facing a replacement opponent on 11 days’ notice, Nurmagomedov makes easy work of Darrell Horcher. The ground-and-pound finish comes in the second round. Afterward, Nurmagomedov says, “I want to fight for the title next.” (His callout is too late. A day earlier, the UFC announced that dos Anjos would defend against Eddie Alvarez on July 7.)
July 13, 2016: Ferguson faces UFC newcomer Lando Vannata — a late replacement for injured Michael Chiesa — and, after a slow start, gets another D’Arce choke finish, this time in the second round. Afterward, he mentions several options for his next opponent, Nurmagomedov among them, saying, “I’m not going to rob Khabib of an ass-whooping.”
Nov. 5, 2016: Ferguson finally gets to fight in a main event and finally gets to fight the champ — well, the ex-champ. Matched up with dos Anjos, who in July dropped the belt to Alvarez, Ferguson puts on a relentless striking performance — landing 199 significant strikes over five rugged rounds — to earn a unanimous decision.
Nov. 12, 2016: One week later, Nurmagomedov batters Michael Johnson for the better part of three rounds before winning via Kimura. Prior to the submission, Khabib can be heard talking to a grounded Johnson while lying on him and punching him. “Hey, I have to fight for the title. You know this,” he tells his immobilized opponent. “I don’t want to smash your face, and I already beat you. You have to give up.” Interviewed in the cage afterward, Nurmagomedov calls McGregor a chicken and does not mention Ferguson.
Dec. 28, 2016: With reports surfacing that the UFC is again interested in booking Nurmagomedov-Ferguson, promotion president Dana White reveals that there’s a roadblock: Ferguson is demanding “the same exact money that Khabib makes.” White resists, citing Ferguson’s recently negotiated contract. “When you sign a deal,” he says, “you honor your deal.”
Jan. 2, 2017: In response to Ferguson’s holdout for more money, Nurmagomedov tweets, “If the UFC don’t want to pay you I’ll pay you 200k extra on your purse let’s make this fight now you have no excuse.”
— khabib nurmagomedov (@TeamKhabib) January 2, 2017
Jan. 12, 2017: The UFC announces its third booking of Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson, this time as the co-main event of UFC 209 on March 4 … and this time for the interim lightweight title. (The new champion, McGregor, is away from the sport, pursuing a fight with boxer Floyd Mayweather.)
March 3, 2017: The fight is canceled yet again, this time after Nurmagomedov is hospitalized prior to weigh-ins with what’s described as “weight management issues.” White blasts the Dagestani’s team for not addressing the issue through the promotion’s in-house medical staff. “They went rogue and went out and did their own thing,” the UFC boss says. “Had they done this thing the right way, the fight probably could have been saved.” Ferguson takes the latest cancellation more gracefully, tweeting out, “I Hope U Feel Better Khabib, I Pray For Your Recovery, I Mean It, Get Better.”
— Tony Ferguson (@TonyFergusonXT) March 3, 2017
March 6, 2017: Ferguson is less forgiving after seeing a “UFC Embedded” preview, filmed during the lead-up to fighter weight cuts, that appears to show Nurmagomedov eating tiramisu. “I’m like, what is this guy doing? Really?” an agitated Ferguson says during an appearance on “The MMA Hour.” “It’s plain disrespectful. It’s unprofessional.” (Though Nurmagomedov later denies that he ate the dessert, Ferguson persists in referring to the Dagestani’s camp as “Team Tiramisu.”)
Oct. 7, 2017: Ferguson faces Kevin Lee in an interim title fight made necessary by the boxing-focused McGregor having not yet defended the belt he won nearly a year earlier. After surviving some serious early trouble, Ferguson elicits the tap via triangle choke in the third round. Afterward, his mind is on title unification, yelling, “Where you at, McNuggets?”
Dec. 30, 2017: Nurmagomedov delivers another ground-and-pound beating, this time winning by lopsided unanimous decision over Barboza. “I am 25-0, and that is the real belt,” he says afterward. “Conor and Tony are nothing. It does not matter to me which one I get next. If the UFC will allow me, I will fight them both in the same night. I want the title fight in April.”
Jan. 17, 2018: White announces that the UFC has booked Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson for a fourth time, as the main event of UFC 223 on April 7 in Brooklyn … for the “real title.” However, White declines to say outright that the UFC will strip McGregor of the belt he won in November 2016 and has yet to defend.
April 1, 2018: No joke, the fight is off. Again. Ferguson requires surgery on his lateral collateral ligament, and Nurmagomedov instead gets 145-pound champ Holloway, who has won 12 straight and will be seeking to become just the second fighter — after McGregor — to hold titles in two UFC weight classes simultaneously.
Nov. 25, 2019: The fight is on! Again! Dana White says the bout is booked to take place on April 18, 2020 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. “Fifth time is the charm,” Nurmagomedov’s manager Ali Abdelaziz tells ESPN.
UFC president Dana White says the next three UFC events are postponed, but April’s title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson will happen.
March 14, 2020: As the coronavirus pandemic cancels events all over the globe, White says on SportsCenter that the UFC will continue to put on fights, including Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson.
“We had possibly a couple different venues for that fight, including Nevada, so now the whole Nevada thing went down so we’re looking for another venue,” White said. “I hope by 10 o’clock (Sunday) morning, I should have two venue options for that fight.”
As of the morning of Monday, March 16, there was no news about a new venue.
“That fight will happen, it will go on,” White said. “And the fans are all freaking out about that. Do not worry, Khabib vs. Tony will happen.”
March 30, 2020: It appears as though the highly-anticipated Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson fight is on the verge of not happening … again.
Nurmagomedov, on an Instagram live chat, confirmed he is back home in Dagestan, Russia, but is now unable to leave to compete on April 18 against Ferguson at UFC 249 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel bans that have closed borders across the world.
“We were in San Jose, training around 10 days, not knowing if we would fight and where we would fight, or in what format the fight would take place, with or without fans. We had many questions that we did not have answers for.” he said. “And then information came from the UFC that the fight 100% would not take place in America. They said that the next fight 99% would take place in Abu Dhabi.
“And after consulting with the UFC, we decided with a month left until the fight … we decided to fly to the Emirates, to Abu Dhabi. When we arrived there, we were told that the borders were closed, and that nobody who is a citizen of another country, who does not have an UAE passport, nobody can enter the Emirates and Abu Dhabi.
“At the present time I’m located in Dagestan, and every day I’m training and getting ready — although I don’t know what I need to get ready for? For what kind of a fight? After we arrived in Russia, we were forbidden to leave and foreign citizens are forbidden to enter too. The same way the entry-exit was closed in America, in Europe, in the Emirates, in Russia, everywhere. The entire world is in quarantine. The entire world is at home.”
April 1, 2020: Nurmagomedov essentially confirmed the fifth attempt at a fight against Ferguson has been canceled. In an Instagram post, Nurmagomedov wrote he would be staying in quarantine like “the whole world” and isn’t sure why he would have to train and travel for a fight during a global pandemic. “I understand everything and I’m definitely upset more than you to cancel the fight, probably like all others, I had many plans after the fight, but I can’t control it all,” Nurmagomedov said.
Tony Ferguson reacts to Khabib Nurmagomedov pulling out of their lightweight title fight scheduled for UFC 249 on April 18.
“The greatest countries and the largest companies of our time are shocked by what is happening, every day the situation changes unpredictably. But Khabib still has to fight, is that what you saying? Take care of yourself and put yourself in my shoes.”
Later that day, in an interview with ESPN, Ferguson said that Nurmagomedov “bailed out” and should be stripped of his UFC lightweight championship.
“He obviously knew what he could do to help save this card,” Ferguson said. “He didn’t want to take any of those chances. Everybody is taking risks trying to do it. He bailed out, man. It’s pretty hard to explain, but he bailed out, man.”