LAS VEGAS • Four times the Ultimate Fighting Championship has tried to pit Khabib Nurmagomedov against Tony Ferguson and four times it has failed. The fifth time also appears to be a lost cause.
This has been a rivalry dating back to 2015, but their feud has yet to be settled in the octagon, owing to a multitude of reasons, from injuries to a failure to make weight.
While the world's leading mixed martial arts promotion is determined to press ahead with its UFC 249 event on April 18, the main fight looks destined not to feature one of its biggest stars in Khabib.
The Russian revealed on Wednesday night that he would not take part, insisting "the whole world should be in quarantine" owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The undefeated UFC lightweight champion (28 wins, 10 coming by submission and eight by knockout) also said in an Instagram post he was unwilling to leave his country, adding: "I understand everything and I'm definitely upset more than you to cancel the fight, I had many plans after the fight, but I can't control it all."
His decision to stay put and not travel for the fight left Ferguson incandescent with rage.
Calling for his opponent to be stripped of his title, the American told ESPN: "I'm, of course, a little bit p****d. He was in Abu Dhabi and he had his chance to be able to come back before the borders were closed in Russia.
"He decided to go back to Dagestan, did not finish his camp. The guy does not want to fight. He's scared, he's running."
Ferguson, however, insisted he would not be backing out. While there have been suggestions Justin Gaethje could step in at the last minute, he wants to instead fight MMA's biggest name, Conor McGregor.
Of Gaethje, Ferguson said: "The dude's got a four and two (win-loss) record in the UFC. Nobody deserves that a**-whooping besides two people, McNuggets and Team Tiramisu - that's Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov."
The UFC 249 event had originally been scheduled for New York, but that venue has been scrapped because of Covid-19. So UFC president Dana White is not only scrambling to find a new host city but also a likely new main event featuring Ferguson.
White is, however, keeping his cards close to his chest. On Khabib pulling out, he told reporters via a text message: "Everyone knew he's not fighting. I'm not telling the media anything about the details of the fight."