Relocation? Behind closed doors? Exploring UFC's options for Khabib v Ferguson should New York fight be canceled
The fifth attempt to pit the top two 155 pounders in the world against each other for the UFC lightweight title is scheduled to take place at the Barclays Center in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on April 18.
Now at the fifth and what every MMA fan hoped and prayed would be the final time of asking, the fight is again in serious jeopardy. On Thursday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced restrictions of more than 500 people in the state, immediately scuppering the promtoion’s plans to pack out the 19,000 capacity venue on Atlantic Avenue.Also on rt.com UFC 249: Khabib v Ferguson on brink of being CANCELED as New York bans gatherings of more than 500 people
Michael Conlan’s annual boxing match on St Patrick’s Day weekend has already been postponed. Conlan, a hero among New York’s plentiful Irish-American population, was due to fight at the Madison Square Garden Theater.
Despite the panic, Khabib manager Ali Abdelaziz has remained positive in his approach, claiming that the fight is definitely going ahead and that the UFC “always finds a way”.
Guys @TeamKhabib vs sunglasses is happening April 18th. UFC always find a way with or without fans this fight is going down people at home need entertainment— Ali Abdelaziz (@AliAbdelaziz00) March 12, 2020
So what options do the UFC have for Khabib and Tony? RT Sport takes a look at some of the other options open to unjinx the jinxed fight.
Move to Las Vegas
The UFC could move the fight from the city that never sleeps to Sin City where the neon lights seem immune to anything other than hedonism. There is no ban on mass gatherings in Nevada, however governor Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency on Thursday.
It wouldn’t be the first time the organization has upped sticks and fled cross-state in the lead up to a major fight.
When inconsistencies arose in Jon Jones’ drug tests in October 2018 before his main event fight with Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232, ‘Bones’ was refused a license to fight in the original location of Las Vegas, Nevada.
The solution? The UFC simply uprooted and moved the entire event to Los Angeles less than a week before the fight. The organization certainly has the muscle and influence to rearrange and relocate Khabib versus Tony over a month out, but with their pick of available states ever decreasing, it will be a tough task even for a UFC flex.
Khabib has had trouble before with the Nevada State Athetic Commision for his vault over the octagon after crushing Conoe McGregor but Vegas will surely welcome the potential revenue with open arms in a time of crisis.
Even a move down the road to New Jersey is a no-go, with the state recently having restricted mass crowds to only 250 people.
Behind closed doors
Dana White says he “doesn't give a shit about the coronavirus” but will surely be feeling the heat, and the UFC head honcho even shared RT Sports meme about having sleepless nights over the disease’s threat to the most anticipated match up in mixed martial arts.
UFC Brasilia this weekend will take place behind closed doors, and with the news that fights scheduled to take place in New York over March will be postponed, it's not unlikely that UFC 249 could be fought out behind closed doors.
In that instance, the fight could enjoy a spike in pay per view sales, with added intrigue and interest in a fight which is being watched by zero people at the venue, despite the UFC having to face a plummet in profits from the absence of gate receipts.
However, the UFC would have to make sure the show didn’t exceed the state’s restrictions on mass gatherings.
Pay Per View only
Perhaps the option to stage the fight behind closed doors might work in the UFC’s favor. The potential to promote the fight as being only available through the organization’s PPV service could precipitate a huge spike in interest and create a mystique around an already deeply intriguing fight.
It would be one way to claw back some of the lost gate receipts should the fight be banished to the dreaded behind closed doors rule, and what the UFC would lose in gate receipts they might just make back in piqued PPV interest.
The holy Islamic month of Ramadan will be respected from the end of April to the end of May, and devout Muslim Khabib will subsequently be unable to fight in the immedaite aftermath of an upturn in fortunes for the coronavirus scare.
Should the fight be postponed, the UFC would be forced to reschedule for at least the end of the year to allow for Khabib a full training camp to prepare fully for the biggest fight if his career.
Add the factor that the Dagestan man normally goes through a vicious weight cut before each bout, lowering his immune system and making him susceptible to the virus itself, and the UFC will almost certianly be looking at a year-end slot to for a fight reschedule. That's if the virus subsides before then.