THE ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP IS making a return with its scheduled events, behind closed doors, after being on pause due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the event is going to lose its long awaited main event between the undefeated Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) and number 1 contender and former Interim Lightweight Champion Tony Ferguson (25-3), both of whom are on a 12 fight winning streak within the UFC.
Khabib, upon being told that the event would take place in Abu Dhabi, had flown to UAE but had to move to Russia because of an impending countrywide lockdown. When he reached Russia, that country also suspended international travel as a precaution against the coronavirus spread. This made it impossible for Khabib to participate in the event.
This was the 5th time Tony and Khabib were booked to fight each other; and the fifth time the bout has fallen through.
However, UFC President Dana White remained adamant that the event would go ahead as planned. Today, he has announced that a full pay-per-view card will be held on 18th April (Morning of 19th April for Indian viewers). Number 2 Lightweight Contender Justin Gaethje (21-2) will take on Tony for the Interim Lightweight Championship, with the winner getting a shot at Khabib later this year.
The co-main event, a long awaited rematch between former Strawweight champs Rose Namajunas (8-4) and Jessica Andrade (20-7), will also go ahead as scheduled.
A bunch of interesting fights are also spread through the card, including a Heavyweight showdown between Francis Ngannou (14-3) and Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0) serving as the final preliminary bout that will be showcased on ESPN across America.
For Indian viewers, the main card will kick off on the morning of 19th April on Sony Ten 2.
Dana White elaborated on the challenges he and the UFC organization faced in successfully assembling the card in an interview with ESPN's Brett Okamoto.
White said the location of the event will be announced in due course, and a state athletic commission will be involved to oversee the fights. USADA will also be on hand to test the fighters for banned substances. However, there may be restrictions applied to the number of crew present at the venue as well as the number of fighter assistants and cornermen being allowed to travel. A limited number of media representatives will also be in attendance.
He also said that "an island" has been secured to build a facility where international fights can taken place on a regular schedule during the global travel restrictions.
The UFC is the first global sporting organization to return to action during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, with many questioning whether this would endanger the fighters and the UFC staff. White, however, insisted that the medical facilities at hand will keep every participant safer than they would be at home in these trying times.