Prior to the outright cancelation of UFC 249 on Thursday afternoon, much of the blame for the altered main event was placed on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s shoulders. When it became evidently clear that the UFC lightweight champion was stranded in Dagestan and unable to leave due to tightened travel restrictions, an outpouring of fans and fighters took to social media to criticize the champion’s decision to return to Russia ahead of the scheduled PPV event in the United States. This included Nurmagomedov’s expected opponent, Tony Ferguson, who called his longtime rival a “chicken” who was “hiding in Russia.”
While Jeff Monson — a former MMA fighter turned deputy councilman in Moscow — was not one of the fighters who criticized Nurmagomedov’s decision to return to his homeland, he lamented whether the champion could have requested travel clearance from the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.
“Perhaps Khabib could personally ask Putin for permission to leave, but he did not. Maybe he could leave Russia, or maybe not,” Monson stated. “I think he did not want to cause anger because of some personal requests and concessions. Moreover, everything rests on his own plans. He is a champion, he has a specific preparation scheme for the fight, up to the dates of flights: when he arrives in Russia and when he returns to America. It is thanks to this approach that he is the champion.
“When circumstances such as coronavirus occur that cause things to go downhill, preparation becomes impossible. I do not blame Khabib. This is his choice - to withdraw from the fight that he believes that he would not have been able to prepare properly.”
Monson’s suggestion that Nurmagomedov was capable of such a request from Putin is likely misguided. While Nurmagomedov previously met with Putin, it is unlikely that the Russian government would have made an exception for the UFC champion. And as it turns out, Nurmagomedov’s decision to withdraw from the event was a sensible one, as the UFC 249 event was canceled on Thursday after ESPN and Disney executives stepped in and asked UFC President Dana White to “stand down.”
To date, Russia has 11, 917 confirmed covid-19 cases, including 94 deaths and 795 recoveries. The capital, Moscow, remains the country’s worst-hit area. More than one million people have been reportedly tested in Russia so far and about 180,000 are under surveillance as suspected coronavirus cases.
There are approximately 1,633,400 confirmed cases worldwide, including 98,000 deaths and 366,000 recoveries. The United States accounts for nearly half a million confirmed cases and over 17,000 deaths as of Friday, April 10.