Ferguson calls for Khabib to be stripped of title

With Khabib Nurmagomedov off the embattled UFC 249 card, his would-be challenger, Tony Ferguson, is saying the UFC lightweight champion should be stripped of his title.

Nurmagomedov wrote Wednesday on social media that he is in quarantine and essentially out of what would have been his UFC lightweight title defense April 18. Ferguson told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani shortly after that he believes Nurmagomedov is “scared and running.”

“He should be stripped of his title,” Ferguson said in a SportsCenter interview.

The UFC has vowed it will forge on with the card despite Nurmagomedov’s apparent absence, and Ferguson has given every indication that he will stay on the card against a new opponent. Justin Gaethje, another top lightweight contender, has been offered to Ferguson, though that fight is not a done deal.

“It doesn’t matter who we have. We’re gonna try to make this thing go,” Ferguson said. “At least some of the people in the world have a little bit of hope. The guys that are really doing it are the doctors and the nurses and the people taking care of everybody. If we can do our little bit of part to try and make something happen, I’m down with that.”

The UFC still needs to find a location for the fight in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic — a climate in which most other sports have canceled games, events and tournaments, and governments have put in place quarantine-like guidelines.

Ferguson said he’s always willing to fight “any time or anywhere.” He chastised Nurmagomedov for not doing the same.

“He obviously knew what he could do to help save this card,” Ferguson said. “He didn’t want to take any of those chances. Everybody is taking risks trying to do it. He bailed out, man. It’s pretty hard to explain, but he bailed out, man.”

In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Nurmagomedov wrote he would be staying in quarantine like “the whole world” and isn’t sure why he would have to train and travel for a fight during a global pandemic.

“I understand everything and I’m definitely upset more than you to cancel the fight, probably like all others, I had many plans after the fight, but I can’t control it all,” Nurmagomedov wrote. “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.”

Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson is one of the most star-crossed fights in MMA history. It has now been booked five times and has been canceled each time due to injuries or illness.

The bout would have been between the two best lightweight fighters in the world. Nurmagomedov is ESPN’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, while Ferguson is No. 6. Nurmagomedov is undefeated at 28-0. Ferguson has won 12 straight and has not lost since 2012.

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