Khabib Nurmagomedov’s father has reportedly said his son’s highly anticipated clash with Tony Ferguson could take place in the UAE.
The fight, which headlines UFC 249, was originally scheduled for the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn on April 18, but UFC president Dana White conceded on Tuesday that it may be moved outside the United States because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The UFC has cancelled its next three events because of the pandemic, although White is adamant UFC 249 will still happen.
On Tuesday, a report emerged quoting Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, the father of the unbeaten lightweight champion, saying the fight could now be switched to the UAE. Khabib’s last bout was staged in Abu Dhabi in September, while he is a regular visitor to the Emirates.
"Most likely it will be Dubai," Abdulmanap was quoted as saying by Russian outlet RBC Sports. "Firstly, it's easier to fight diseases because of the heat. And I think the Emirates will pay for the UFC fight faster and easier.
“Abu Dhabi may well be, but then, [that's up to] Dana White. I can't approve, but there are more chances there.”
Speaking earlier to confirm the UFC had postponed its events on March 21, March 28 and April 11, White told ESPN: “Tony Ferguson versus Khabib Nurmagomedov is still on.
“That will happen. We're hoping this all clears up by April, and this fight is going to happen. Whatever it takes, probably not in the United States, but this fight is going to happen.”
Meanwhile, Nurmagomedov's manager, Ali Abdelaziz, later told TMZ: "I talked to Dana White last night. He said there's a possibility the fight is gonna be out of the country. We discussed about going to Zaire or Manila or some distant places. I said 'Hey, Muhammad Ali did it, I'm sure Dana White can do it'."
If, and where, it does happen, Nurmagomedov-Ferguson is expected to prove one of the biggest in UFC history. The pair, who each boast 12-fight win streaks, were set to meet four times previously, but the bouts failed to materialise for a variety of reasons.
Nurmagomedov has not competed inside the octagon since defeating interim champion Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 on Yas Island last September. The Dagestan native, now 31, won by a third-round submission to take his unbeaten mixed martial arts record to 28-0. It was Nurmagomedov’s second defence of his title.
Ferguson, meanwhile, was last beaten in 2012 and holds a 25-3-0 record. He has not fought since registering a technical-knockout victory against Donald Cerrone last June.
Irrespective of the latest claims, the fight taking place in the UAE seems highly unlikely, especially given how the coronavirus has decimated world sport. Almost 12 months ago, the UFC announced a five-year deal with Abu Dhabi, with UFC 242 the first event in that partnership. The promotion is slated to return to the capital later this year.