Khabib Nurmagomedov poses for photographers after a bout.
The UFC is determined to fight on amid the coronavirus pandemic. While leagues, Tokyo Olympics and other top sports events cancelled or delayed, the UFC President Dana White is bent upon to keep UFC running during the COVID-19.
The UFC staged a full fight card in an empty arena on March 15 night in Brazil’s capital city Brasilia, sticking to its plan to keep fighting in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Charles Oliveira stopped lightweight Kevin Lee with a guillotine choke in the third round of the main event in the UFC’s first show since many other sports organizations around the world postponed and canceled competitions.
The world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion held 12 bouts in Brasilia with only the fighters, their camps, the television production crew and a few dozen essential personnel inside Nilson Nelson Gymnasium.
April is crucial for UFC with a much-anticipated bout between reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and challenger Tony Ferguson is slated for April 18.
White has been adamant Nurmagomedov-Ferguson would take place, with the UFC president is pondering over venues outside the US. Recently, Khabib’s father and coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov told Russia's RBC Sports UFC 249 might take place in the UAE amid concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
"Most likely it will be Dubai," Abdulmanap said.
"Firstly, it’s easier to fight diseases because of the heat. And I think the Emirates will pay for the UFC fight faster and easier. Abu Dhabi may well be, but then, [that’s up to] Dana White. I can’t approve, but there are more chances there."
Adding weightage to Khabib’s father statement, White told ESPN the location was “99.9 per cent” confirmed, though he would not disclose it until it’s official.
He said the fight between Khabib and Ferguson will happen behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He also said the event, which would be a closed-doors show - would feature a full bill of fights.
"Trust me, Khabib has been telling me every day, 'Send location,'" White said. "I have it. It's 99.9 per cent. On April 18, we are having this fight.”
Nurmagomedov, who boasts a 28-0 record, last fought in September, when he successfully defended his lightweight crown by defeating Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi - taking his win streak in UFC to 12-0.
Ferguson, meanwhile, is also enjoying a 12-fight unbeaten run stretching back to 2012. His most recent victory came last June against Donald Corrine. Now the No 1-ranked challenger, Ferguson holds a 25-3-0 record.
White confirmed a recent report from Russian media outlet TASS that Nurmagomedov has flown back to Russia to finish his camp, rather than staying in California, where he trains out of American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose.
Combat sports are among the most elemental competitive events, with just two fighters and a referee in a cage or ring surrounded by three judges and relatively few vital support personnel. That’s a big reason why the UFC believes it can continue while the rest of the sporting world grinds to a halt.
White said the UFC will monitor its fighters for symptoms of coronavirus before allowing them to compete. The UFC issued guidelines to its fighters and employees this week asking them to adhere to standard practices for avoiding contraction and transmission of disease.
“We’re always looking out for the health and safety of our fans, our athletes, whatever it might be,” White said.
“This thing going on, we’re going to do the same thing. We’re going to make sure that two healthy athletes are competing, and these guys are good to go.”
White stands increasingly alone among sports’ power brokers in his perception of the pandemic. NASCAR and the PGA Tour scrapped planned events Friday, a few days after nearly every team sports league in North America had abandoned hopes of regular competition in upcoming weeks.
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