Dubai: With UFC chief Dana White confirming that UFC 249, a blockbuster event headlined by the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson fight, will go ahead as scheduled on April 18 behind closed doors, the question being asked is where will it take place?
With New York on lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis and the Barclays Centre having being subsequently ruled out, White said on Wednesday that he had found a new location and that talks were under way to finalise the venue.
UFC fights attract an average audience of close to 1.5 million viewers on ESPN + PPV and White is determined to give the legion of fight-fans something to cheer about amid the catastrophe that has enveloped the world.
The promotion was forced to call off fight night in London, Columbus, and Portland earlier this month as government and/or athletic commissions prevented the events from going ahead.
So given this intriguing scenario, where will UFC 249 be held?
International oddsmakers, who have a knack of knowing more than you and me, are already in full flight, speculating on the most likely venues.
And guess what? The UAE and even Saudi Arabia are very much in the thick of it to host what would be a groundbreaking event in the age of COVID-19.
Online oddsmaker, Betonline has made public the potential hosts with the front-runner being Florida at odds of 2/1 favourite.
In second place is Abu Dhabi which is the 7/2 second favourite and Saudi Arabia a 9/1 chance.
Abu Dhabi has entered the picture following its successful staging of the last Khabib Nurmagomedov fight where he defeated Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 last September.
Khabib’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov told Russia’s RBC Sports (h/t Jed Meshew of MMA Fighting) that UFC 249 could take place in the UAE.
“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.”
Although Nurmagomedov Sr did mention Dubai as a possible host, the betting markets do not reflect that comment and instead focused only on Abu Dhabi.
Other hosts cities are Russia 4/1 and Mexico 5/1.
Earlier this week White told White told ESPN’s SportsCenter: “Tony Ferguson versus Khabib Nurmagomedov is still on. That will happen.
“We’re going to follow these guidelines, not have more than 10 people in a room. We’re hoping this all clears up by April, and this fight is going to happen.
“Whatever it takes, probably not in the United States, but this fight is going to happen.
“Obviously, the President (Donald Trump) just spoke to the country and basically said — it started at (no more than) 50 people in a room, which made (Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in Brasilia) difficult, but we complied, we took all fans out and made sure as few production people in the room as possible, we pulled it off last Saturday.
“Now, they’re saying there should be no more than 10 people, and that’s impossible.”
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Latest Odds for UFC 249 venue
UAE (Abu Dhabi) 7/2
Saudi Arabia 9/1
South Africa 10/1
International Waters 25/1
Area 51 (US Air Force Facility, Nevada) 80/1
North Korea 100/1
The UFC 249 card
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson
Rose Namajunas vs Jessica Andrade
Calvin Kattar vs Jeremy Stephens
Magomed Ankalaev vs Ion Cutelaba
Ronaldo Souza vs Uriah Hall
Belal Muhammad vs Lyman Good
Ben Rothwell vs Gian Villante
Karl Roberson vs Makhmud Muradov
Sijara Eubanks vs Sarah Moras
Ottman Azaitar vs Khama Worthy
Umar Nurmagomedov vs Hunter Azure