The outlook for the potential UFC 249 card scheduled for April 18, location TBD, got a lot bleaker on the morning of March 30. The scheduled main event between Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov and Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson for the lightweight strap may be without the champion as Nurmagomedov took to social media to let people know he can’t leave Russia during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the fifth time these two have been scheduled to fight and once again the fight is in peril.
UFC president Dana White quickly got on the phone and has reached out to some fighters to potentially replace Nurmagomedov at the top of the UFC 249 bill, in what may be an interim title fight. At this point, the name that has emerged to fight Ferguson is Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje.
Online sportsbook Sportsbook has made Gaethje the favorite to step in at -110 followed by Alexander Hernandez at +550, Khama Worth at +550, Islam Makhachev at +550, Ottman Azaitar at +550, Donald Cerrone at +600 and Conor McGregor at +700 to round out the oddsboard.
Check out my UFC 249 article for a preview and pick for each fight on the main card.
Why Is Gaethje The Favorite To Fight Ferguson?
For those who don’t know, Gaethje is a very hard-nosed aggressive fighter with a strong resume. When he fought in WSOF, he went a perfect 10-0 with nine knockout victories. In the UFC, The Highlight has gone 4-2, with all four wins and his two losses coming by knockout. Overall, in 23 pro fights, Gaethje has gone to the judges’ scorecards just twice, and 20 of the fights have ended in a knockout – so the fight will be entertaining one way or another.
Furthermore, Gaethje’s lone defeats in the UFC came against former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and the most recent challenger for the title, Dustin Poirier. He is clearly the next man in line outside of Conor McGregor – more on him in a second – so it absolutely makes sense for him to step in on late notice and bring the fight to Ferguson.
Could Conor McGregor Fight Tony Ferguson?
Speaking for essentially all MMA fans across the globe, if Khabib isn’t going to fight Tony, then can we see Conor fight Tony? It would be an incredible fight, highly entertaining with many potential unknowns, and those three fighters are clearly the best in the lightweight division. All that said, I would be stunned to see The Notorious step in for this fight. To start, he’s in Ireland and I’m not sure he can enter the United States during this pandemic. It appears that Ferguson will be fighting someone already in the USA.
Secondly, I don’t know if Dana White wants to risk that fight. It’s no secret that the timeline for the lightweight division appears to be Khabib vs Tony and then Conor fights the Sportsbook in a mega fight, potentially the rematch from the extremely intense first Nurmagomedov vs McGregor bout. Before COVID-19, it looked like Khabib vs Tony, while Conor would fight either Gaethje or Nate Diaz in July. Rushing a Ferguson vs McGregor fight doesn’t make a ton of sense from a marketing perspective either. Would I love to see it? Absolutely. Will it happen? I don’t think so.
Overall, I’m still holding out hope that Ferguson and Nurmagomedov will still be on the marquee for UFC 249. The Eagle has many connections, including Vladimir Putin, so perhaps he can take a private jet out of Russia, return to the States and have the fight. But the fact that the UFC is reaching out to other fighters is concerning.
Here’s a look at the full list of odds for fighters to oppose Tony Ferguson at UFC 249:
Odds as of March 30 at Sportsbook