UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov says he still is willing to defend his title against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on April 18 at an undisclosed location, but is hopeful the fight could be rebooked as early as August if it that does not happen.
As of Thursday evening, Nurmagomedov (28-0) and Ferguson (25-3) are still tentatively scheduled to headline UFC 249 on April 18. At least, the UFC has not officially canceled the event, even though president Dana White has not revealed where it will take place, given the logistical challenges caused by COVID-19.
Earlier this week, Nurmagomedov, who is currently in Dagestan, appeared to remove himself from the equation, and even revealed that the UFC is looking to hold the pay-per-view event without him. ESPN subsequently reported the UFC is exploring the possibility of replacing Nurmagomedov on the card with Justin Gaethje.
Nurmagomedov, who is Muslim, will observe a fasting period for the month of Ramadan, which this year falls between April 23 and May 23. He said he could be ready to face Ferguson as soon as August if he does not compete this month.
"June, July, two months, then August I can fight," Nurmagomedov told ESPN. "I hear the UFC wants to make a show in San Francisco [in August]. If not, let's fight in Abu Dhabi middle of September. Or fight now, before Ramadan. April 18, we're supposed to fight, but where? This is the question."
In an interview with ESPN on Wednesday, Ferguson suggested Nurmagomedov should be stripped of his title for flying back to his home in Dagestan during the coronavirus pandemic and being unable to return for the fight due to travel restrictions.
Nurmagomedov, who said the UFC was aware of his travel plans, responded to those claims by saying, "He's just a stupid guy."
If this matchup were to fall through, it would be the fifth time a fight between the pair has been canceled dating to 2015. Despite the history, Nurmagomedov said he still believes the two will fight and would much rather face Ferguson than agree to a lucrative rematch against Conor McGregor, whom he defeated in 2018.
"I believe we're going to fight, I swear to God," Nurmagomedov said. "I don't know, but I have a feeling we're going to fight. Just wait. We're going to fight. I really believe nobody wants this fight like me. I swear. Nobody wants this fight like I want this fight.
"UFC tried to make [a McGregor rematch]. I tell them, 'This guy don't deserve it. Bye-bye.' I can make with this chicken five times more money than with Tony Ferguson, and you know most people, they don't know about Tony Ferguson. A lot of people want to watch name versus name. This is not about skills versus skills. Very small people understand this. This is why I take this fight, because of legacy. I chose this fight. I really want to fight right now, this is not my mistake."
Ferguson has not definitely stated he will face Gaethje if the Nurmagomedov bout falls through. For his part, Nurmagomedov said he would not care if the UFC created an interim title in the event he did not fight on April 18.