Despite Khabib Nurmagomedov’s insistence that he’d travel wherever the UFC told him to in order to keep his main event slot for UFC 249, the organization is officially moving on without him. UFC president Dana White announced on Monday, less than two weeks before the event, that Nurmagomedov will be replaced by Justin Gaethje in an interim lightweight title fight against Tony Ferguson.
According to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, the UFC is currently targeting a location on the west coast for the championship bout.
Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title on April 18 is signed, per Dana White. Location still TBD. Fight will headline UFC 249. As reported last night, they‘ve zeroed on a location on the west coast of the US to hold this event & hope to finalize ASAP.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) April 6, 2020
After the original location of Brooklyn was scrapped due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Nurmagomedov left the United States to travel to the UAE, where it was assumed the event would take place. He was eventually re-routed to Russia due to travel restrictions and acknowledged he is under quarantine in an Instagram post. Later, while White claimed “everyone knew” Nurmagomedov would not fight, the unbeaten champ pushed back and said he’s “100 percent” willing to fight if White gives him a location. Instead, the UFC is going with Gaethje, who is on a three-fight win streak after consecutive losses at the hands of former champion Eddie Alvarez and top contender Dustin Poirier.
While he was rumored to be the replacement competitor against Ferguson, Gaethje was apparently originally in talks to fight Conor McGregor later this summer. Regardless of what happens between Ferguson and Gaethje, the last-minute title bout does nothing but push McGregor even further down the pecking order, with the winner next in line for Nurmagomedov likely sometime after August.