Coronavirus outbreak

'Cursed' Khabib-Tony fight may be KO-ed again

LONDON • The blockbuster contest between undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and No. 1 challenger Tony Ferguson has been a fight the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has been trying to make for five years.

The four previous times - all deemed to be the main event - have been scuppered owing to injuries suffered by the fighters, much to the chagrin of the world's biggest mixed martial arts promotion.

It could again fall by the wayside - with the global coronavirus pandemic to blame, although UFC president Dana White says he would do "whatever it takes" to make it happen.

White confirmed on Monday night the organisation would be cancelling its next three events in London, Columbus, Ohio and Portland, Oregon.

In an e-mail addressed to employees, he said: "Every day, there are new restrictions put in place on travel and large public gatherings, making it impossible to stay on schedule.

"I've been in the fight game for 20 years, and this is what we do - we find a way to keep our events going no matter what. But this is different. The world is being affected right now, and nothing is more important than the health and safety of you and your families."

The cancellations have cast doubt on whether UFC 249 on April 18 in New York will go ahead, leading many fans to label the Khabib-Ferguson super-fight as "cursed". White, however, told ESPN MMA yesterday the long-awaited bout was "going to happen" and he would do whatever it takes even if it meant holding the clash behind closed doors and staging it outside of the United States.

He added: "The fans want to see it, the fighters want to fight. I've had nothing but positive feedback from the fighters.

"We're going to continue on. These three fights postponed, they will still happen and Khabib-Tony is on for the original date."

Two of the most iconic horse races in the world, the Grand National and the Kentucky Derby, have also become the latest sporting victims of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Jockey Club announced the cancellation of the former event on Monday night, just hours after the British government ramped up its response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

It had considered holding the race without fans, but that was no longer viable "as public health must come first" and cancelling was "the responsible thing to do".

The festival, first staged in 1839, was due to be held from April 2 to 4 at the Aintree course, where Tiger Roll would have been going for an unprecedented hat-trick of wins.

The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is as much of an American institution as the Grand National is in Britain. However, the first jewel in the Triple Crown will now be postponed from May 2 to Sept 5 owing to the contagion.

Only once before in 1945 was the "Run for the Roses" postponed and not contested on its traditional first Saturday in May, owing to World War II. There were 1,543 Covid-19 cases and 55 deaths in the UK, and 4,667 cases and 87 deaths in the US as of yesterday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2020, with the headline ''Cursed' Khabib-Tony fight may be KO-ed again'. Print Edition | Subscribe