Tony Ferguson will take on Justin Gaethje at UFC 249 this month instead of Khabib Nurmagomedov, with the UFC confirming a full-card show it says will kick-start the promotion’s immediate return to hosting live events.
UFC president Dana White announced the news late on Monday, saying the revised event will go ahead on April 18 after Ferguson and Gaethje signed off on an interim lightweight title bout.
Ferguson, the division's No 1-ranked challenger, had been expected to face undefeated champion Nurmagomedov, but the fight had to be moved from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, White confirmed Nurmagomedov would not be participating in the event, with the Russian currently in his native Dagestan.
A location for UFC 249 has not been confirmed, but the promotion has announced a 12-fight card concluding with the Ferguson-Gaethje clash. White also said he had identified a private island off the United States that would be used to stage a number of shows moving forward.
“This place, where this fight’s going to be on April 18, I have locked up for two months, so I’m going to continue to pump fights out,” he told ESPN. “I have also secured an island. The infrastructure is being built right now. We’re going to do all of our international fights on this island.
“So when we do this fight on April 18, international and locally in the United States, we’re going to start cranking. The UFC will be back up and running - internationally and here in the States.”
The UFC had cancelled three events in the build-up to UFC 249, although White has always remained resolute that the April 18 show would happen. As per his remarks, it seems the events planned for April 25, May 2 and May 9 will now go ahead.
Reacting to his addition to UFC 249, Gaethje tweeted: “#forthepeople I’m terrified but I love it. #ufc.”
The American, whose record sits at 21-2, has won his past three fights; Ferguson, meanwhile, is unbeaten in 12 bouts stretching back eight years. He holds a 25-3 record. White said the winner on April 18 would take on Nurmagomedov later this year.
But in another obstacle for White, the Association of Ringside Physicians issued a statement later on Monday calling for the indefinite suspension of all combat sports events.
"Any combat sport taking place during this global pandemic places the athletes, officials, and anyone else involved in the event under unnecessary risk of infection and transmission of Covid-19," the statement read.
"In addition, combat sports athletes often require medical attention after a bout, and we do not wish to see any additional strain on an already overwhelmed medical system.”
The UFC will now have to find ringside physicians willing to work against the ARP's guidance.