UFC President Dana White has been hit from all angles as he tried to keep the UFC 249 main event between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson intact.
At the end of the day, though he has been able to keep UFC 249 on the schedule for April 18, it just wasn’t possible to keep Khabib vs. Ferguson at the top of the bill. He has instead had to shift gears and pit Ferguson against fellow contender Justin Gaethje for an interim championship.
Meanwhile, Nurmagomedov is parked in Russia, taking flack from many critics for the most anticipated lightweight fight of all time falling through the cracks for the fifth time.
White, however, insists that it was not Nurmagomedov’s fault that he ended up in Russia on lockdown, while UFC 249 is expected to move forward at an undisclosed location in the United States.
“(Khabib) ended up getting flown back to Russia. He didn’t fly back to Russia; he got flown back to Russia.”
Nurmagomedov did not pass blame to anyone but the COVID-19 pandemic that is running rampant, forcing ever tightening restrictions across the globe.
“Number one thing that make me crazy (is) when people say I pull out or I do something. I no understand this. I still training since December. I train very hard, 9 December. I come (to) U.S. because UFC give me location, New York Barclays Center. I come U.S. I train 40 days, then everything is go crazy,” Nurmagomedov told ESPN.
“They say U.S.A. 100 percent no fight. Okay. We move to Abu Dhabi, Dubai. Why? Because they told me 99 percent it’s gonna be in Dubai. Like last my training camp, how I did, I come to U.S. I train with Coach Javier in AKA 55 days then we move to Abu Dhabi because fight was in Abu Dhabi. I understand, if Abu Dhabi, no problem. We did this before, we’re gonna do this one more time. We come. They close gate. But this is not my problem. I don’t make mistake. One more time, I wanna say I am Khabib, I’m not coronavirus.”
When Nurmagomedov arrived in Abu Dhabi, he found the country closed to foreigners and was sent home to Russia.
After announcing the revamped UFC 249 fight card, White conducted a lengthy interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, defending his lightweight champion.
“I know everybody was going crazy on Khabib. Khabib didn’t do anything wrong. You look at the way the world changed, literally by the day, he got caught up. He ended up getting flown back to Russia. He didn’t fly back to Russia; he got flown back to Russia. It sucks, but what are you gonna do?”
White was as disappointed as anyone that Khabib vs. Ferguson was nixed for the fifth time, but felt fortunate to navigate the most difficult thing he’s ever had to do and end up with another stellar main event.
“I could go on for 10 minutes telling you how that whole thing fell apart. The reality is that is nobody’s fault. Every day when I got up, the rules changed. Things were shutting down. Things were closing,” said White.
“(Khabib) got caught up in Russia. It was a total mishap. We all made mistakes in that one. Nobody is to blame for that. It is what it is. The fact that we can even pull off an event right now… this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. By far the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
“But if you look at Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje, ridiculous fight, and a fight that absolutely makes sense. Khabib vs. Tony should be happening, but it should have happened five times ago. I’m starting to believe Joe Rogan that this fight is cursed. This is an incredible main event and I have a lot of respect for both guys standing up.”
White plans for UFC 249 to be the signal that his fight promotion is back in business. He is adamant this isn’t a one-off, feel-good event, but the start of the rest of the UFC’s calendar of events for the remainder of 2020.
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