Tony Ferguson has called for Khabib Nurmagomedov to be stripped of his title after the UFC lightweight champion signalled his intention to withdraw from UFC 249.
Nurmagomedov made the announcement late on Wednesday, taking to social media to say he was in quarantine in Russia and that he was not prepared to travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Dagestan native was supposed to face Ferguson, the No 1-ranked challenger, in the headline bout at UFC 249 on April 18, which as of yet has no venue confirmed. It marks the fifth time a fight between the pair has been cancelled.
"I understand everything and I'm definitely upset more than you to cancel the fight, probably like all others," Nurmagomedov wrote on Instagram. "I had many plans after the fight, but I can't control it all."
Speaking to ESPN not long after the message was posted, Ferguson said: “The guy does not want to fight. He’s scared; he’s running. He should be stripped of his title. It’s defend or vacate; that dude needs to be stripped.”
With the bout moved from it’s original location at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the UFC are said to be continuing to look for alternative venues – Abu Dhabi was at one time mooted - and will now have to try to organise another opponent for Ferguson.
Justin Gaethje has been mentioned as a possible candidate, although the American was being touted to take on former two-weight champion Conor McGregor this summer. McGregor has also been mentioned as a potential opponent for Ferguson.
Ferguson, whose record sits at 25-3-0, has reportedly been offered Gaethje, but said: "It doesn't matter who we have. We're going to try to make this thing go. At least some of the people in the world have a little bit of hope.
"The guys that are really doing it are the doctors and the nurses and the people taking care of everybody. If we can do our little bit of part to try and make something happen, I'm down with that."
Nurmagomedov-Ferguson was set to be one of the most popular fights in UFC history. Both men are enjoying 12-fight win streaks, while Nurmagomedov remains unbeaten in his 28 professional mixed martial arts bouts. Ferguson, meanwhile, hasn’t been defeated in eight years.
"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.
"You ran, bro. You listened to your pops and you did everything you possibly could to avoid a whooping. Nobody else deserves that whooping besides two people: that’s McNuggets and Team Tiramisu. That’s Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor.”
In his Instagram post on Wednesday, Nurmagomedov had said: “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."
Nurmagomedov last fought in September, when he defended his title for the second time by defeating Dustin Poirier at a sold-out The Arena in Abu Dhabi.