First it was off, then it looked like it might be back on again; but now, after weeks of back and forth, the highly anticipated Khabib Nurmagomedov-Tony Ferguson fight is finally off.
UFC President Dana White, in response to a report on Twitter claiming he had reached an agreement with Russia President Vladimir Putin on travel arrangements to allow the UFC lightweight champion to come to the United States for the fight, said Nurmagomedov would not be in attendance.
“Absolutely NOT true!!!” White said on Twitter. “The card is happening but @TeamKhabib is out.”
READ: Liverpool legends slate club owners for using government aid to pay staff
After returning to his home in Dagestan, Russia, from California following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Nurmagomedov said on April 1 that he would be staying in quarantine, effectively ruling him out of the clash with Ferguson.
But, just a day later, he told ESPN that was still “100% willing” to fight if a location for UFC 249 could be confirmed.
“Right now, if they give me location and I can come out from Russia and I can go to any country,” the 31-year-old said. “U.S., Abu Dhabi, doesn’t matter. I’m going to fight, 100 percent. Just give me location.”
However, on Saturday night, Twitter user @arielheIvani – who appeared to be mimicking ESPN MMA reporter Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) – claimed White and Putin had come to an agreement to help Nurmagomedov participate.
READ: Welsh raider Potters Corner wins Virtual Grand National
Following thousands of retweets and likes, White weighed in, shooting down the report and sticking to his belief that UFC 249 will go ahead, despite the spread of Covid-19.
“I will announce the entire card tomorrow (Monday, April 6),” White declared.
While a host of major sporting events have been postponed or canceled, White has been insistent that UFC 249 will go ahead in some form or other.
With New York battling to limit the effects of the coronavirus, hosting UFC 249 in the United Arab Emirates had been mooted, though worldwide travel restrictions also make that idea look improbable.
Nurmagomedov’s absence means that one of the strangest streaks in MMA history goes on – the Russian fighter and Ferguson have been booked to fight five times since December 2015, and the bout has never happened due to injury or illness.
Ferguson has gone as far as to suggest that Nurmagomedov should be stripped of his title.
Visit CNN.com/sport for more news, features, and videos
A number of other fighters have thrust themselves forward as potential opponents for Ferguson.
Justin Gaethje has reportedly been proposed as a potential opponent, while welterweight champion Kamaru Usman volunteered to fight in the main event against Jorge Masvidal as a replacement.