Untimely injuries, unhealthy weight-cuts, fluke accidents, global pandemics. It’s almost as if the MMA gods are trying to tell us something about Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson.
Nurmagomedov is 28-0 and Ferguson has won 12-straight fights dating back to 2013. They are the consensus top-two lightweights of their era, which contributed to their UFC 249 tilt scheduled for April 18 being one of the most anticipated matchups in UFC history.
Unfortunately, the unbeaten UFC lightweight champion announced Wednesday that he will remain quarantined in his native Russia due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and travel restrictions.
This makes it the fifth – yes, FIFTH – time the highly anticipated title fight has been cancelled, postponed or rescheduled.
With that in mind, here’s a look at all the previous times this bout fell apart:
Take one: Dec. 11, 2015 – The two were first set to meet at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale more than four years ago, however a rib injury forced Nurmagomedov out of the fight six weeks before the event. This would have been Nurmagomedov’s first fight in nearly 20 months, as the undefeated Russian had also been dealing with a lingering knee injury that required surgery. Nurmagomedov was 22-0 at the time and coming off a dominant win over Rafael dos Anjos.
Meanwhile, Ferguson was on a six-fight winning streak after suffering his lone UFC loss more than three-and-a-half years prior. Ferguson ended up fighting Edson Barboza instead and the two put on a Fight of the Night performance with Ferguson taking home an additional performance bonus for submitting his Brazilian opponent with a second-round D’arce choke.
Take two: April 16, 2016 – This time around it was Ferguson forced out of the fight after not receiving medical clearance when a doctor discovered some blood in his lungs.
Nurmagomedov had been out of action for two full years at this point due to the injuries mentioned above, but the UFC was able to find him a replacement opponent 11 days before the event. Nurmagomedov fought and finished Cage Fury Fighting Championships lightweight champion Darrell Horcher who was making his UFC debut.
Take three: March 4, 2017 – This one was oh so close to happening. Fight fans were less than 48 hours from seeing them face off for the interim lightweight title at UFC 209. Conor McGregor won the 155-pound strap from Eddie Alvarez four months earlier but was on a temporary hiatus from MMA as he focused on fatherhood and prepared for his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather Jr., which is why there was an interim title on the line.
During his weight cut, Nurmagomedov fell ill and needed to be hospitalized. The bout was called off on a doctor’s recommendation.
Take four: April 7, 2018 – It seemed like a sick April Fool’s Day joke at the time because it happened on April 1, but six days prior to UFC 223 Ferguson sustained a fluke injury that knocked him out of the fight. Ferguson tripped over a cord while fulfilling media obligations in New York and tore a ligament in his knee.
Dana White announced then-reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway was going to step up on less than a week’s notice to attempt to become a two-weight champ.
This tweet didn’t have a long shelf life, however, as Holloway was deemed unfit to compete by the New York State Athletic Commission on the day of the weigh-ins. Holloway was in the process of shedding the final few pounds to make the 155-pound limit, but commission officials would not allow Holloway to continue losing water weight for fear it would be unsafe.
The UFC then looked to former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, who had been scheduled to compete on the card, but the two sides could not come to an agreement. Then the UFC wanted to pit Paul Felder against Nurmagomedov, but the New York commission dismissed that notion because Felder wasn’t a ranked contender at the time.
The third option was Al Iaquinta, originally scheduled to fight Felder on the card, and that fight came together literally on one day’s notice. Nurmagomedov earned a unanimous decision over Iaquinta to win the title, which was vacant after McGregor had been stripped of the belt by the UFC.
This was also the same week McGregor threw a dolly through a bus window in which Nurmagomedov was sitting.
Take five: April 18, 2020 – This latest incident is unfortunate for an entirely different set of circumstances. Both fighters are healthy, but the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it travel restrictions and public health concerns. At the time Nurmagomedov announced he was out, the UFC had yet to finalize if and where UFC 249 would take place.
As long as these two elite talents continue winning, there’s no way to avoid the matchup. In fact, every time Nurmagomedov manhandles an opponent and Ferguson wins another post-fight performance bonus the matchup becomes all the more alluring.
So, instead of looking at it like this fight is cursed, maybe’s it’s the universe’s way of telling fight fans the matchup is so tantalizing that it’ll be worth the wait. Let’s at least hope it’s the latter.