With less than three weeks to go until Khabib and Ferguson are due to face off in their lightweight title superfight at UFC 249, speculation remains rife as to if – and where – the bout could actually take place.
Coronavirus-shaped obstacles have continued to mount for a fight that has fallen through on no fewer than four previous occasions.
First the Covid-19 outbreak put paid to plans to hold the event at the original venue of Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Other avenues were then shut off one by one as the US and countries around the world went into lockdown.
Amid the Covid-19 chaos, UFC chief Dana White has remained steadfast in his conviction that the Khabib-Ferguson showdown WILL go ahead on April 18, claiming in various interviews that a location is “99 percent” decided and that he has “four or five” different options open to him.
But as the landscape continues to shift under White’s feet by the hour, the current location of one of the key protagonists in all of this – Khabib – could be his biggest headache.
The Russian quit his American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) training base in San Jose, California, to return to his Dagestani homeland at the start of the week.
That much we do know.
What has transpired since then is less certain.
Russia announced on Saturday that ALL borders would be shut for ingoing and outgoing travel of any kind from Monday, with exceptions only granted to “diplomatic or official missions.” No date was given on when the restrictions could be lifted, but it seems unlikely that will be any time soon.
That would seemingly trap Khabib inside Russia for the foreseeable future.
But is the lightweight champ even still in his homeland?
Rumors have been floating around on social media in recent days that Khabib has slipped out of the country and headed to the UAE – the venue of his last octagon outing in September when he defeated Dustin Poirier to retain the lightweight strap.
Clips have circulated of teammates on flights supposedly bound for Dubai, while others have picked up on photos shared by the likes of cousin Umar Nurmagomedov – also due to fight at UFC 249 – of himself in the UAE.
Yet thus far the indication is that these are all historic clips/photos, and that there is NOTHING official to indicate that Khabib has left Dagestan.
Indeed, his father and trainer Abdulmanap remains in Dagestan, and Khabib would be unlikely to head off to a training camp elsewhere without him.
Khabib could, of course, slip out on Sunday to beat the Monday lockdown, but – as with everything else – that is merely conjecture.
Nonetheless, given Dana White’s insistence that he will finally get Khabib and Ferguson in a cage together on April 18, by hook or by crook, the discussion still centers on where that might be.
UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya offered his guess that the event would happen in Saudi Arabia – but that notion was promptly shot down by Khabib’s manager Ali Abdelaziz.
So if not Saudi Arabia, then where?
Options touted around include the seemingly sensible – such as Florida (hotly tipped as the favorite) and the UAE – to the outright ridiculous, such as Area 51 and North Korea.
Assuming he is still in Russia, could Khabib even get to any outside location, given the government-imposed lockdown?
True, given his status as something of a national hero (he was feted by President Vladimir Putin at personal meetings after his victories against Conor McGregor and Poirier), it’s not beyond the realms of imagination to suggest that an exception could be made and Khabib and his team could fly out of the country.
Likewise, rules could be bent or accommodations made in places such as the UAE in order to make the fight happen.
Thinking even more bizarrely, some have entertained the notion that the fight has ALREADY happened, and that we’ll simply see a pre-recorded version of it aired on April 18.
Yes, that really is where we are with this thing…
Let’s also remember that the April 18 date seems crucial, given that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins on April 23.
Khabib would not countenance fighting during that time, and would need recovery training afterwards to get back to top shape.
Just another example, then, of the complexities facing Dana White in his desperate quest to make the fight happen.
And all of this is to leave aside the crucial debate as to whether the event should be happening on April 18 at all, given many have expressed concern over the health of those involved (both Khabib and Ferguson have expressed willingness to fight, it should be noted).
Most of us, then, are none the wiser as to where, how, or if the fight will go ahead.
But one thing is for certain: for it to happen, Dana White and Co. need to act fast, before any remaining window is firmly and finally slammed shut by the Covid-19 carnage.