Dana White says Khabib is OUT of UFC 249 after fake account dupes fans into thinking Putin stepped in to save fight with Ferguson
White responded to a fake account passing itself off as well-known ESPN journalist Ariel Helwani on Sunday, which had stated that Putin and the UFC chief had agreed for lightweight champ Khabib to escape the coronavirus lockdown in Russia and jet to the US.
"BREAKING: Dana White and Vladimir Putin have reached an agreement on travel arrangements for UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov to come to the United States. He will fight Tony Ferguson," wrote the phony account, racking up more than 16,000 'likes'.
"It’s happening folks. #UFC249 will go on as scheduled April 18."
#BREAKING: Dana White and Vladimir Putin have reached an agreement on travel arrangements for UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov to come to the United States. He will fight Tony Ferguson. It’s happening folks. #UFC249 will go on as scheduled April 18.— Ariel Helwani (@arieIheIvani) April 5, 2020
That prompted White to confirm that Khabib was definitely not part of the equation for UFC 249, but that the event was still on and that he would reveal the full card on Monday.
Absolutely NOT true!!! The card is happening but @TeamKhabib is out. I will announce the entire card tomorrow.— Dana White (@danawhite) April 6, 2020
Meanwhile, the real Helwani reported the same day that the UFC are close to finalizing a location for the event, which has been hit hard by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
First scheduled for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, talk then shifted to the card being held in Abu Dhabi - where Khabib headed after his training base in the US was locked down, only to find that he wasn't even allowed into the UAE. He then returned to Russia, where he remains stranded.
According to ESPN, UFC 249 will now be held on the US West Coast, potentially on tribal lands which are not subject to state athletic commission regulations.
Lightweight champ Khabib is likely to be replaced in the main event by 155lbs contender Justin Gaethje, who shares the same manager as the Russian in Ali Abdelaziz.
Abdelaziz stoked hopes on social media that Khabib himself may still be in the frame on Sunday, writing on Twitter: "It is on 100 now where all the haters."
Is on 💯💯 now where all the haters— Ali Abdelaziz (@AliAbdelaziz00) April 5, 2020
Abdelaziz may have been referring to his man Gaethje, however, and has in the past made contradictory statements on Khabib, including when he insisted the lightweight champ was not stuck in lockdown in Russia, even when it was clear that was the case.
The confirmation from Dana White that Khabib is off the card at UFC 249 will dash the hopes of many fans who had clung to the idea that he could still somehow escape Russia to face Ferguson.
The Dagestani himself told fans last week that the idea of leaving Russia would be far easier said than done given the total border lockdown, and stressed that even if he could escape, he had still not been given a definite location to fly to.
At the weekend there were renewed reports that Belarus had offered its services to host the Khabib versus Ferguson showdown, having imposed far less stringent restrictions on sports events amid the coronavirus pandemic.Also on rt.com Khabib v Ferguson: Belarus MMA boss says country 'offered to host UFC 249,' but government DENIES claims
That flicker of hope will be extinguished when Dana White announces the card on Monday, with the location set to follow soon.