Less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump braced the country for a “very difficult” two weeks with “a horrific point in terms of death,” because of the global coronavirus pandemic, UFC president Dana White announced on Monday that UFC 249 would be held as scheduled on April 18.
White announced that the card, which was originally supposed to be at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and feature a lightweight title fight between unbeaten champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and No. 1 contender Tony Ferguson, will feature Ferguson against Justin Gaethje in the main event for the interim title.
He did not announce a venue, or other fights.
Gaethje, a former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion, is ranked No. 4 at lightweight behind Ferguson, Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor.
The UFC has canceled three consecutive shows at a cost of several million in ticket sales, and White has been adamant about getting his shows back on the air. There are full stay-at-home orders from governors in 41 of the 50 U.S. states, including Nevada, where the UFC is based. Four others have partial stay-at-home orders.
During a March 31 interview with Yahoo Sports, White said Americans needed to fight the virus head on.
“How long are we going to stay in our houses and hide?” White asked even as the death toll began to rise significantly.
Nurmagomedov said during an Instagram Live chat on April 1 that he left his training camp in San Jose, California, to fly to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates because he said he was told by UFC officials that’s where the fight would be held.
But not long after arriving in Abu Dhabi, the royal family decided to shut the country down in response to the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, Nurmagomedov returned home to Dagestan in Russia.
He opted not to fight because of the pandemic and the difficulty in getting out of Russia. That left the show without a main event, but Gaethje shortly thereafter agreed to take the bout.