UFC 249: Khabib-Ferguson set to be cancelled for a fifth time

Khabib Nurmagomedov, Dana White and Tony Ferguson
Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson were held apart by Dana White

Unbeaten UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is expecting a fifth postponement of his long-awaited fight against American Tony Ferguson.

The pair were set to meet on 18 April in New York but the venue was ruled out because of the coronavirus pandemic.

UFC president Dana White said UFC 249 would "99.9%" take place elsewhere but Nurmagomedov went back home to Russia.

"I hear they are looking to organise it with or without me. OK, go ahead," Nurmagomedov said on Instagram Live.

After being told UFC 249 would not take place at the Barclays Center, Nurmagomedov left the US.

The 31-year-old was preparing to face Ferguson behind closed doors in the United Arab Emirates while the 36-year-old American remains in his homeland.

"The UFC told me that this fight 100% isn't happening in the USA, and even if it's not happening in the Emirates it will happen on this side of Atlantic," Nurmagomedov added.

"Now I don't really know what's going on. It's really hard to train and cut your weight when the whole world is locked down and you don't know what you are preparing for."

Ferguson tweeted: "You're hiding in Russia. Don't use it [travel bans] as an excuse to back out. You have been sent many locations, send us one."

Is Nurmagomedov-Ferguson cursed?

Although Ferguson could still fight at UFC 249 - if it takes place - it would be a big disappointment for UFC fans because it is the fight they have wanted to see for years.

White has arranged it four times previously, but each time it has been cancelled because of health or fitness issues.

Nurmagomedov withdrew with a rib injury in 2015, Ferguson had a lung issue in 2016, and while trying to make the weight for their next bout in March 2017, Ferguson developed a kidney problem.

The pair were then set to fight for the lightweight championship in April 2018 but Ferguson suffered a freak accident six days before, tearing his knee ligament after tripping over a cable at a media event. No wonder UFC commentator Joe Rogan has said the fight is "cursed".

Many believe Ferguson is the only man capable of beating Nurmagomedov and the prospect of finally seeing them fight would guarantee a huge television audience. April's bout was expected to attract more than two million pay-per-view buys.

After staging Fight Night 170 on 14 March, White had to postpone his next three events, including Fight Night 171 in London, but said that UFC 249 would still go ahead behind closed doors.

It would not just be the only sports show in town, it'd be virtually the only sports show on the planet, so even without Nurmagomedov it would likely attract a big television audience.

But White has been criticised for pressing ahead with plans to stage the event during a global pandemic so must now decide whether it is worth it.