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UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov said he would not leave quarantine in Russia to fight, which would further undermine UFC President Dana White’s determination to hold the ‘UFC 249 April 18 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nurmagomedov made his announcement Wednesday on Instagram, telling the world of mixed martial arts to “take care of yourself and put yourself in my shoes.”
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Nurmagomedov (28-0) was set to face top competitor Tony Ferguson (25-3) in the main event of UFC 249 in two weeks. The show was originally scheduled for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn before the pandemic disrupted the calendar for the UFC.
Nurmagomedov is in his native Dagestan, and his Instagram post made it clear that he is not going to fight even if White is able to find a place to stage it. Nurmagomedov left California to return home when the UFC had provisional plans to host UFC 249 in the United Arab Emirates, but the champion revealed on Monday that he would likely not be allowed to leave the country again due travel restrictions.
“I understand everything and I’m really more upset than you are to cancel the fight,” said Nurmagomedov. “Probably like everyone else, I had many plans after the fight, but I can’t control everything. “
White and the UFC did not immediately comment on Nurmagomedov’s decision, which has been awaited for several days since the world of MMA learned that Nurmagomedov was in Dagestan rather than California, where he usually finishes training for his fights .
Nurmagomedov also expressed anger at the forces trying to force him to fight, although he did not say whether he was referring to the fans or to White.
“It turns out that the whole world should be in quarantine,” said Nurmagomedov. “The governments of all countries, famous people around the world urge people to comply with all security requirements in order to limit the spread of the disease, save people, and Khabib is the only one to be relieved of all his obligations and must exercise free will and practice flying around the world for the sake of fighting?
Ferguson still wants to fight on April 18, and he called on the UFC to strip Nurmagomedov of his lightweight title in an interview with ESPN, the UFC broadcast partner.
“He obviously knew what he could do to help save this card,” said Ferguson, who hasn’t lost a fight since 2012. “He didn’t want to take any of those chances. Everyone takes risks trying to do it. He bailed out, man.
White has repeatedly promised to find a safe way to organize UFC 249, the biggest à la carte event in the promotion’s spring calendar. White claimed to have chosen a location where he would present the show without fans, although he did not disclose the location.
The UFC hosted a fanless show in Brazil on March 14, but postponed the following three events. White had planned to host two of these fanless events at the UFC training complex in Las Vegas, but the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s decision to suspend combat sports in the state prevented him to do.
While Nurmagomedov has excluded himself, several fighters have campaigned for the main location of the UFC 249 card.
Brawler Justin Gaethje has been proposed as a potential opponent for Ferguson, who has said he has not officially accepted a new game, as it remains unclear whether UFC 249 will go ahead. Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman also volunteered to fight on short notice against veteran Jorge Masvidal.
The pandemic has extended one of the most baffling streaks in MMA history: Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have been officially scheduled to fight five times since December 2015, and starfighting has yet to take place.
The first scheduled game was canceled in late 2015 due to an undisclosed injury to Nurmagomedov, and the second proposed game in April 2016 was abandoned when Ferguson had a problem with his lungs. The bout was booked for the third time at UFC 209 in March 2017, but was canceled on the day of the weigh-in when Nurmagomedov fell seriously ill due to his weight loss.
The UFC scheduled the fight for the fourth time for UFC 223 in April 2018. Six days before the fight, Ferguson tore a ligament in his knee while walking on a television set to promote the fight, and he been scrapped again.