UFC 249 officially has a new headline fight after Dana White confirmed Justin Gaethje will step in to face Tony Ferguson. Gaethje replaces lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is in coronavirus lockdown in Russia.
White confirmed the main event for the April 18 show, which he is adamant will go ahead despite coronavirus restrictions in place around the world.
“The fight is signed and is 100% ON LIVE on ESPN somewhere on EARTH!” tweeted White, as he announced Ferguson and Gaethje would fight for the interim lightweight title.
There is still no official word on the location of the event, but reports suggest it will be held on the West Coast of the US, potentially even on tribal lands which are not subject to state athletic commission jurisdiction.
The headline act is now set however, and sees former interim lightweight champ Ferguson – who is on a 12-fight win streak stretching back seven years – face the hard-hitting Gaethje, who has won three on the spin and last defeated Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in September.
Gaethje responded to the official announcement by stating his participation was “for the people.”
Coincidentally, Donald Cerrone was also the opponent for Ferguson when he last stepped into the octagon at UFC 238 in June last year, with ‘El Cucuy’ defeating the veteran by TKO on a doctor’s stoppage at the end of the second round.
UFC boss White did not immediately confirm the fights lower down the UFC 249 card, although Khabib’s teammates Islam Makhachev and Umar Nurmagomedov, who is also his younger cousin and was due to make his UFC debut, are both definitely out as they are similarly stranded in lockdown in Russia.
UFC 249 will take place in arguably the most testing times of any show in the promotion’s history, given the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and the rancorous debate over if, where and how the event will happen – or even if it should be going ahead at all.
It will be almost certainly be held behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions, and one man watching from home will be lightweight champion Khabib.
The Dagestani became stranded in his homeland after quitting his training base in San Jose, California, in March after it was shut down due to the worsening Covid-19 situation.
From there Khabib headed to Abu Dhabi, saying he was told by UFC bosses that it would “99 percent” be the venue for the fight with Ferguson.
However, the Russian and his team were not even allowed into the country due to travel restrictions, and instead returned to Russia, which later imposed a full border lockdown.
There has been intense speculation ever since as to whether Khabib could still somehow jet out of the country on a private flight.
The fighter himself alluded to that in an Instagram message to fans last week, but insisted that even if that were the case, he had not been given a location to fly to.
Instead, his long-awaited match-up with Ferguson has fallen through for an incredible fifth time, and the man standing across the octagon from Ferguson on April 18 will be Justin Gaethje.