The UFC says Tony Ferguson will fight Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title in the main event of UFC 249 on April 18.
The mixed martial arts promotion announced the main event matchup Monday. Gaethje replaces lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is apparently unable to leave Russia during the coronavirus pandemic.
Although UFC President Dana White still hasn’t even announced a venue for UFC 249, he remains determined to hold a pay-per-view show this month. Most U.S. states have restrictions in place that would make it impossible to stage a show, even without an audience.
UFC 249 initially was slated for Brooklyn, but a venue change became necessary several weeks ago. ESPN, the UFC’s broadcast partner, has said White is attempting to secure an unnamed venue on the West Coast for the show.
The UFC held a full fight card in an empty arena in Brazil last month, but canceled its ensuing three scheduled shows. White has remained steadfast in his plan to stage the company’s biggest show of the spring while virtually all high-level sports competition has stopped.
Ferguson (25-3) is a longtime lightweight contender who has been booked to fight Nurmagomedov five times. Every single bout has fallen through due to injury or other circumstances.
Gaethje (20-2) is among the UFC’s most exciting fighters, with a heedless brawling mentality that suggests a thrilling matchup with the equally reckless Ferguson.
“I’m terrified and I ... love it,” Gaethje tweeted after the announcement.
Most UFC fighters have expressed an eagerness to fight during the pandemic. Mixed martial artists typically don’t get paid unless they fight, although Bellator and other promotions have paid fighters whose bouts were canceled by the pandemic in recent weeks.
Nurmagomedov announced last week that he wasn’t planning to leave his native Dagestan, suggesting Russia’s travel restrictions made it impossible. The unbeaten champion later claimed he would be willing to leave for the fight, but couldn’t plan because he didn’t know where or when it would occur.