Tony Ferguson could become a two-time interim champion after UFC President Dana White announced on Twitter that Ferguson will face fellow lightweight Justin Gaethje at UFC 249 on April 18. Gathje replaces lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The winner of the bout will face Nurmagomedov at a later date.
Ferguson last fought at UFC 238, scoring a second-round TKO win over Donald Cerrone. Gaethje’s last fight was also a TKO win over Cerrone at UFC Fight Night: Cowboy vs. Gaethje last September.
Nurmagomedov pulled out of the title fight with Ferguson due to COVID-19. “The Eagle” is at home in his native Dagestan, Russia where he was to finish his training camp. Russia then closed its borders in response to the ongoing pandemic.
Ferguson first won an interim lightweight title by submitting Kevin Lee at UFC 216 in 2017. He was later stripped of the belt due to injury. Nurmagomedov’s decision to not fight at UFC 249 marked the fifth time a bout with Ferguson has fallen through. Both he and Ferguson are on 12-fight winning streaks in the UFC.
Nurmagomedov said in a previous Instagram post, “The greatest countries and the largest companies of our time are shocked by what is happening, every day the situation changes unpredictably. But Khabib still has to fight, is that what you [are] saying? Take care of yourself and put yourself in my shoes.”
The champion had the option to leave Russia by way of a private jet with the approval of the Russian government but made health his primary focus. In response to criticism over pulling out, Nurmagomedov said he was still willing to fight if the UFC would tell him the location of the event for him to fly to.
White has not disclosed the location of the event. However, Jeff Sherwood of Between Rounds has reported that the event will take place from the Tachi Palace Casino in Lemoore, Calif. The venue was once home to the WEC, Palace Fighting Championship and Tachi Palace Fights. It has also hosted Invicta Fighting Championships.
The UFC 249 main card will be available through ESPN+ pay-per-view. Additional bouts for the event can be found below.
Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas
Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan de Castro
Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price
Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar
Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Uriah Hall
Alexander Hernandez vs. Omar Morales
Marlon Vera vs. Ray Borg
Michael Johnson vs. Khama Worthy
Sijara Eubanks vs. Sarah Moras
Ryan Spann vs. Sam Alvey