Khabib v Ferguson: Belarus MMA boss says country 'offered to host UFC 249,' but government DENIES claims
The head of the Belarusian MMA federation claims the country has offered to host the coronavirus-hit UFC 249 showdown between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, with the UFC supposedly considering Belarus as a 'Plan B'.
Hopes that the long-awaited lightweight title showdown between Khabib and Ferguson could still happen on April 18 appeared to all-but die last week when Khabib confirmed he was stranded in Covid-19 lockdown in Dagestan.Also on rt.com 'Put yourself in my shoes': Khabib 'CANCELS' UFC 249 fight, will not circumvent Covid-19 quarantine measures
But despite that apparent death knell, the faint embers of hope still burn among fans desperate for the fight to happen.
Some of those hopes have rested upon Belarus, a nation of 9.5 million people which borders Russia, and which has thus far largely avoided the kind of strict coronavirus curbs imposed around the world.
Led by eccentric President Alexander Lukashenko, who has urged the population to soldier on through the crisis, Belarus has thus far registered 562 Covid-19 cases and eight deaths.
Its main football league has continued largely as normal, with matches still played in front of fans.
All of that has helped fuel speculation that Belarus could step in as a potential savior for UFC 249 as other locations are forced off the table one by one.
Indeed, Khabib's father and trainer Abdulmanap himself alluded to Belarus as a potential option in a recent interview.
The executive director of the Belarus Federation of Hand to Hand Fighting & MMA, Maxim Korolkov, has now said they have extended an offer to the UFC to hold the event there.
"We offered specific arenas which could host the UFC," Korolkov told Russia's Sport24 website.
"One of them is the Minsk Arena which can hold 15,000 people."Also on rt.com What coronavirus? Fans pack stadium to watch Minsk derby as Belarus remains lone league riding out Covid-19 storm
Korolkov added: "We received an oral reply [from the UFC].
"Firstly, we were thanked for the offer. Secondly, our proposal was included as a conditional 'plan B'.
"They already have venues for this tournament. Dana White does not want to report this, but they have well-developed options.
"In any case, they are grateful and ready to consider our option with Minsk for future UFC tournaments."
Korolkov said that even should the UFC turn to them late on to host the event, "by April 18 we will [be able to] prepare everything."
The Belarusian MMA boss further suggested that fans could even fly in from abroad, despite the current travel restrictions around the globe.Also on rt.com 'Send me location!' Khabib breaks silence on UFC 249 cancelation during McGregor-gatecrashed Instagram Live (VIDEO)
However, in a twist to the claims, Korolkov's assertions that his federation was given the green light by the government to approach the UFC were later rejected by the Belarusian Sports Ministry.
"The Ministry of Sport and Tourism did not discuss this question," a spokesperson told Russian agency TASS.
The latest developments come as the location for UFC 249 - originally planned for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York - remains shrouded in mystery.
Lightweight champ Khabib returned to his homeland after an aborted trip from the US to Abu Dhabi, which he said UFC bosses had assured him would "99 percent" be the venue for the event.
Khabib then announced he was essentially stuck in Russia, leading to the dawning reality that the bout with Ferguson was set to fall through for a fifth time.
But reports soon emerged that there was still the theoretical possibility for Khabib to take a private flight to get out of Russia, despite all cross-border travel being closed.
Khabib subsequently stressed that even if that were the case, he is still none the wiser as to where exactly he would be expected to fly to.Also on rt.com 'People are stupid if they think I can just call Putin and Trump': Khabib maintains he has no way out of coronavirus lockdown
Regarding the Belarus option, the 155lbs champ said last week that he had merely heard rumors "on the internet like everyone else" of that possibility.
Dana White has remained adamant that the UFC 249 show will go on, although acknowledging that he already knew Khabib was out due to the Covid-19 complications.
Aside from the continued speculation over where the event could be held (and if it should even go ahead at all), rumors also abound as to who could step in to replace Khabib and face Ferguson.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include the rejection of the initial claims by the head of the Belarusian MMA federation that government officials had supported any approach to the UFC.