Update (4/8): This wild ride is finally coming to an end. Stay safe, everyone.
Update No. 3 (4/6): Finally, it appears we have a fight card for the April 18 event. Here's the latest announcement from the UFC:
Here's what we have so far in terms of betting odds:
Feguson (-175) vs. Gaethje (+145)
Hardy (-200) vs. de Castro (+160)
Ngannou (-280) vs. Rozenstruik (+225)
Namajunas (-220) vs. Andrade (+180)
Luque (-190) vs. Price (+165)
Souza (-145) vs. Hall (+120)
Kattar (-265) vs. Stephens (+215)
Eubanks (-320) vs. Moras (+260)
Oh yeah, and Uncle Dana is going to buy an island...
Gaethje seemed to confirm via his personal Twitter account that the fight is finalized:
And regarding a location, Ariel Helwani believes it will be somewhere on the West Coast:
It appears this event will also have the UFC Interim Lightweight Championship on the line, essentially locking in the fact that the winner will face Khabib in a unification belt later in 2020.
Ferguson will also go from a betting underdog to a favorite in this main-event spot, as he's currently listed as (-170) in the sportsbooks offering action. The comeback on Gaethje is approximately (+145).
We may have a few more heavyweights as well, as a bout between Greg Hardy and Yorgan de Castro, originally scheduled for March 28, might be added to the mix. This is from de Castro's (unverified) Twitter account:
Update (4/6): Dana White is persistent, if nothing else. He claims to have a location and a fight card, which he'll announce at some point on Monday. Getting a location pinned down will be key in getting Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje to sign on the dotted line. (And yes, he's replying to a fake Helwani account trolling for clicks. But it's info nonetheless.)
However, here's a trusted source that also says a location should be released on Monday.
Update (3/29): We'll continue to post updates to the fight card on this article, and the most significant one came Monday morning, courtesy of Ariel Helwani:
So we now know Khabib is out, officially cancelling the Khabib-Ferguson matchup for the fifth time. The UFC is marching onward, however, and is still trying to salvage a main event by offering Justin Gaethje the spot previously held by Khabib. That matchup would be electric, though the challenges of putting this on grow greater every day.
If that fight falls through for any reason, add Santiago Ponzinibbio to a long list of fighters looking to face Ferguson in a makeshift main event:
It looks like the UFC is asking Dustin Poirier to stay ready for a May booking too, though he says he can make 155 on short notice if need be:
And while he's likely just having some fun with us, Conor McGregor's coach decided to drop a little teaser on a recent Ariel Helwani tweet...
Shifting gears, top welterweight contender also announced he was available Monday morning via Twitter. He was tentatively lined up for an International Fight Week matchup against Kamaru Usman, but with the entire summer fight calendar in limbo, taking a fight whenever he can seems like a prudent option.
It also seems like Usman is on board:
Furthermore, it appears the always controversial Colby Covington wants to reignite talks of potentially facing Tyron Woodley on the UFC 249 card. As usual, he brings his unique brand of trash talking to the table.
More on that proposed matchup is below.
(Original Column From 3/26:) While UFC London, UFC Columbus and UFC Portland have all been cancelled, Dana White insists that UFC 249 will be held on its originally-scheduled date of April 18. The expected lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson has been cancelled on four separate occasions for various reasons, but the UFC will be damned if it lets a global pandemic cancel this matchup a fifth time.
The following is a list of fact on we do know about UFC 249 at the time of publication.
We know that the event was originally scheduled to take place at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, but with New York being one of the states hardest hit by COVID-19, there was little doubt that location would have to be moved. White says he's "99.9 percent" sure he has a location, but it has yet to be officially announced.
While an announcement from the UFC could come any day now, one online sportsbook had a little fun by posting betting odds for the location:
Saudi Arabia 9/1
South Africa 10/1
International Waters 25/1
Area 51 80/1
North Korea 100/1
The card itself will likely get shaken up quite a bit with due to travel issues, but here's what the UFC had originally scheduled for UFC 249, per UFC.com. Betting odds are as of Thursday morning (3/26).
Khabib Nurmagomedov (-300) vs. Tony Ferguson (+250)
Jessica Andrade (+160) vs. Rose Namajunas (-185)
Magomed Ankalaev (-275) vs. Ion Cutelaba (+215) (moved to a later date) Islam Makhachev (-515) vs. Alexander Hernandez (+375)
Jeremy Stephens (+225) vs. Calvin Kattar (-265)
Note: Cutelaba seems determined for this rematch to go down, as he left his native Moldova immediately upon finding out airports would be closed. He made it to Vegas only to find out the UFC Performance Institute was closed, and is still in limbo at the moment.
(Update 4/6): Looks like Islam Makhachev is off the card, being in a similar boat as Khabib. The UFC will attempt to find a replacement for Hernandez that keeps him on the card.
Uriah Hall (+130) vs. Ronaldo Souza (-150)
Lyman Good (+130) vs. Belal Muhammad (-160) Ottman Azaitar (-165) vs. Khama Worthy (+135) Gian Villante (+175) vs. Ben Rothwell (-230) Shamil Abdurakhimov (TBD) vs. Ciryl Gane (TBD)
Even if any of these fights are cancelled due to travel issues, it appears White intends to have a full undercard for this event and is prepared to have fights from the three previously-cancelled events to help make this the "biggest, baddest card that's ever been done."
A lot of rumors have been floating around, but the Ngannou fight seems like a realistic possibility. He's one of the few known fighters who has already been tested for COVID-19, with the results coming back negative:
That's all we know so far for sure, but why not speculate wildly about what the UFC plans to do with the rest of the card? If Dana White truly wants to put on one of the baddest cards of all-time to captivate the sporting world with everything else on hiatus, what are some of the options at his disposal? I'll throw out a handful of matchups based on previous events that were cancelled.
Tyron Woodley vs. TBA
Woodley hasn't made the walk to the Octagon since dropping his championship belt to Kamaru Usman in March of 2019. "The Chosen One" was originally scheduled to face Leon Edwards at UFC London on March 21 in a matchup to determine the top welterweight contender, but the whole card ended up being scrapped due to COVID-19. Dana White tried desperately to have this card back on U.S. soil, whether it be at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas or a Native American reservation in Oklahoma, but plans ultimately fell through.
Before the event was called off, several welterweight contenders threw their names in the ring for a shot at Woodley on U.S. soil. The most notable was Colby Covington, who is coming off a loss himself to champion Kamaru Usman. Gilbert Burns had fought just a week earlier and took little damage while making quick work of Demian Maia, and he was willing to put his name in the hat as well. Neither came to pass, and while it seems sensible for the UFC to save Woodley to eventually headline a card, anything is on the table. Covington would be the most exciting from a fan perspective, though Edwards is clearly the most deserving.
The heavyweight duo was scheduled to be the main event of UFC Portland on April 11, but the entire card was ultimately cancelled. This matchup was first planned for last December, but Harris was understandably forced to withdraw to attend to a family tragedy. Jair Rozenstruik stepped in on Harris' behalf, and caught the attention of the fight world by literally scoring a buzzer-beating knockout. Overeem had been in the driver's seat for the majority of the fight, but let his guard down for just a moment, and the knockout was scored with four seconds left on the clock.
If Rozenstruik is unable to face Ngannou for any reason, there's a chance the UFC looks to one of these fighters to answer the call. It would most likely be Harris, given Overeem has already been demolished by Ngannou in devastating fashion. Speaking of heavyweights, Greg Hardy and Yorgan de Castro were scheduled to fight on the Columbus card March 28. They could be part of any heavyweight shake-up as well.
Derek Brunson vs. Edmen Shabazyan
This was a matchup originally planned for UFC 248 on March 7, which now seems like a faraway time when everything was normal in the sports world. It was announced in late-February that this matchup would be pushed back to UFC Portland on April 11, which would have strengthened the card significantly had it happened. Then COVID-19 hit, and both fighters were left without a matchup (and payday). Both train stateside, however, so it's not wild that they might get a call to gauge their interest in fighting April 18 instead.
What else do Dana White & company have in store? Stay tuned to this column for updates on current and rumored fights.