Dubai: As the sporting world comes to terms with the overwhelming power that coronavirus brings, UFC fighters are retreating into a less ordinary lifestyle away from the glare of the Octagon’s spotlights and media attention.
The final straw was when UFC boss Dana White was forced to cancel UFC 249, which was scheduled for April 18, signalling the temporary closure of the franchise’s exhaustive calendar of weekly fights.
One division in the eight category men’s event was hit harder than most — the star-studded lightweight division headed by the unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Fight fans would have been gearing up in their living rooms around the world to watch UFC 249, which was scheduled to be headlined by two of the most exciting MMA combatants at 15lbs, Tony Ferguson (MMA 25-3, UFC 15-1) and Justin Gaethje (MMA 21-2, UFC 4-2).
Gaethje was a short-notice replacement for disposed Khabib, who was unable to commit to the fight against Ferguson due to travel restrictions in Russia. It marked the fifth time since 2016 that fights between the Russian and American did not happen.
And it may never, with future events in the sports looking more dishevelled than a certain Donald Trump’s hairstyle.
For one, UFC may have to go ahead with a Ferguson vs Gaethje fight once the sport resumes to honour both fighters commitment to the franchise, or perhaps they might renege on the agreement and invite Khabib to take on Ferguson, at the sixth time of asking.
True, Gaethje was only a replacement, but he is no slouch and deserves more respect, even if Khabib vs Ferguson was the plan and makes more sense given the current rankings in the lightweight division, where Ferguson is the legit ranking challenger to the Russian’s crown.
With the 12-fight-win streak he is on, Ferguson deserves a shot at Khabib’s title, and a chance at earning the biggest pay cheque of his life.
Meanwhile, where does this leave Conor McGregor, the biggest names in UFC and the No. 3 ranked fighter in the world?
McGregor want a rematch with Khabib, whom he lost to in October 2018. The Notorious has since announced that he is back to his best with a first-round destruction of ageing American Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone.
But he may have to wait his turn, with Ferguson dominant at the head of the queue and Gaethje also awaiting his chance.
There is a possibility that McGregor may square up against No. 2 ranked Dustin Poirier for the second time or he may turn to the boxing ring to take on Floyd Mayweather for the second time since his loss in August 2017.
That could seem a more lucrative offer, with another ‘Money Belt’ in tow.
Mayweather took home $200 million on that occasion and McGregor in excess of $100 million.
However, all this depends on when the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control and when sport gets the official clearance from governments and state commissions around the world.
In the meanwhile, how about some virtual fights like the NBA, NFL and MLB players have taken to?
LATEST MMA RANKINGS
LIGHTWEIGHT (155-lb) DIVISION
Champion (Since April 7, 2018): KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV
MMA record: 28 wins
Last three fights: Dustin Poirier (W, submission), Conor McGregor (W, sub) Al Iaquinta (W, decision)
1. Tony Ferguson
MMA record: 25-3-0
Last three fights: Donald Cerrone (W, TKO), Anthony Petis (W, TKO), Kevin Lee (W, sub)
2. Conor McGregor
MMA record: 22-2-0
Last three fights: Donald Cerrone (W, TKO), Khabib Nurmagomedov (L, sub), Eddie Alvarez (W, TKO)
3. Dustin Poirier
MMA record: 25-6-0
Last three fights: Khabib Nurmagomedov (L, sub), Max Holloway (W, dec), Eddie Alvarez (W, TKO).
4. Justin Gaethje
MMA record: 21-2-0
Last three fights: Donald Cerrone (W, TKO), Edson Barboza (W, KO), James Vick (W, KO)
5. Dan Hooker
MMA record: 19-8-2
Last three fights: Paul Felder (W, dec), Al Iaquinta (W, dec) James Vick (W, KO)
6. Paul Felder
MMA record: 17-5-0
Last three fights: Dan Hooker (L, dec), Edson Barboza (W, dec), James Vick (W, dec)
7. Charles Oliveira
Country: Sao Paulo, Brazil
MMA record: 29-8
Last three fights: Kevin Lee (W, sub), Jared Gordon (W, KO), Nik Lentz (W, TKO)
8. Donald Cerrone
MMA record: 36-14-0
Last three fights: Conor McGregor (L, TKO), Justin Gaethje (L, TKO), Tony Ferguson (L, TKO)
9. Al Iaquinta
MMA record: 14-5-1
Last three fights: Dan Hooker (L, dec), Donald Cerrone (L, dec), Kevin Lee (W, dec)
10. Kevin Lee
MMA record: 18-5-0
Last three fights: Charles Oliveria (L, sub), Gregor Gillespie (W, KO), Rafael dos Anjos (L, sub)