The Olympics have fallen. So have the Euros, Masters and Wimbledon.
All of these competitions represent the summits of their respective sports, but all of them have been sacrificed for the greater good amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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The UFC lightweight title fight, which was originally set for 18 April at UFC 249 in Las Vegas, undoubtedly marks the pinnacle of MMA. The devastating, undefeated Dagestani Nurmagomedov (28-0) has been scheduled to share the Octagon with the versatile and eccentric Ferguson (25-3) on five occasions now, with the previous four all proving desperately ill-fated.
Last minute comical injuries and failed weight cuts have always ended up thwarting the contest, so no, it cannot be allowed to collapse for a fifth time. Not a bout this big, this significant, this tantalising. Not even due to a global pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives?
It emerged this week that defending champion Nurmagomedov is stuck in Russia, with travel in and out of the country forbidden. “I understand everything and I’m definitely upset more than you to cancel the fight – probably like all other I had many plans after the fight, but I can’t control it all,” Nurmagomedov said on Instagram.
“The greatest countries and the largest companies of our time are shocked by what is happening, every day the situation changes unpredictably. But Khabib still has to fight, is that what you saying? Take care of yourself and put yourself in my shoes.”
Meanwhile, Ferguson, who has reportedly been tentatively offered alternative opponents, has called for Nurmagomedov to be stripped of his title if he does not compete.
Yet White is bullish; it’s as though a fierce wind is coming, and he has turned indignantly to face it, hand on zipper. He insists he can figure something out to deliver the originally planned main event. The question of how is secondary only to the question of why.
Yes, this is the most-anticipated fight in the short history of MMA and Ferguson seemingly has the best shot of anyone at finally catching ‘The Eagle’ mid-flight. And yes, the prospect of losing it once again is cruel. But fans have waited five years for this clash, so a few more months are surely bearable so that it can be experienced in all its splendour, with fans in attendance and Joe Rogan to incredulously call the action between two fit and focused fighters.
Alternative fights between Ferguson and Jorge Masvidal or Justin Gaethje or Dustin Poirier are all tempting, but they can wait, too.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and although the population’s love of sport was already apparent, it is clear now more than ever that the escapism sport provides is incredibly valuable. However, that alone is not justification to host an event. Even coupled with the significance of the event in question. If that were the case, the Olympics would be going ahead this year – so would the Euros, Masters and Wimbledon.
Of the greatest gatherings across different sports, Wrestlemania is the only comparable one to remain, but even that is proceeding as a pre-recorded, two-night broadcast with a hollow roster and absent crowd.
The reasoning: to put smiles on faces, as per Triple H.
While that act of good will can no doubt be trusted implicitly, the ‘Grandaddy of them All’ has been reduced to a Frankenstein-like farce by the pandemic, so why is it not being chased out of town by pitchfork-wielding fans?
The Olympics, Euros and Wimbledon were set for this summer, but a decision has been made months ahead of time to delay them all. The notice period on the Masters was shorter, so seemingly guaranteed a postponement, though you would be forgiven for forgetting that feeling in light of UFC’s conviction in continuing with UFC 249 – or at least its main attraction.
And as attractive as this ostensibly cursed bout is – just like anything you want but can’t have – the longing for it at such a time as this, as well as the acceptance of White’s efforts to save Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson, only serves to augment the misconception of MMA fans as bloodthirsty.
Right now, MMA fans should be pining for a period of placidity, not pugilism.