With the next three previously scheduled UFC events postponed, one massive event hangs delicately in the balance.
UFC 249, headlined by one of the most anticipated fight in the company’s history with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov taking on former interim titleholder Tony Ferguson, is still scheduled to proceed as things currently stand, but nothing is certain amid the current rapidly growing coronavirus pandemic.
UFC president Dana White has assured fans that the fight will take place regardless, even outside the U.S. if necessary, but what does that mean for the rest of the card?
Welterweight contender Belal Muhammad (16-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC), who takes on Lyman Good (21-5 MMA, 3-2 UFC) on the April 18 card, is hopeful that his fight, and the event as a whole, end up happening.
“I’m staying optimistic; if there’s anyone that can get it done, it’s Dana,” Muhammad told MMA Junkie. “I feel like they were close to making every event happen, it just wasn’t enough time, so I’m hoping that these next four weeks will be dedicated to figuring out UFC 249. I’m also praying that a vaccine will happen in the next couple weeks. Who knows? Anything’s possible.”
The UFC fought to make this Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 29 card in London happen by moving the event to the U.S. and reaching out to Colby Covington as a potential replacement for Leon Edwards to face Tyron Woodley.
But their plan fell apart, as large gatherings have been banned and many non-essential businesses shutting down amid the global pandemic. Nurmagomedov’s father has since tossed out the idea of the UFC 249 main event potentially taking place in Dubai, a familiar territory for Muhammad.
Muhammad’s last fight took place in Abu Dhabi, where he scored his first career submission win, choking out Takashi Sato at UFC 242.
“I haven’t been told what happens to my fight, but if they take me back there (United Arab Emirates), I’ll be down for it,” Muhammad said. “I think an Indian reservation can work; we just have to figure out a way to meet the 10 people in a room guidelines. Maybe the corners can stay in the back and we can have a phone in between rounds to talk to them as the cutman gives us water and ice.”
In the meantime, Muhammad has been doing all he can to stay ready, despite the restrictions in most public places.
“Yeah it’s been crazy, but training-wise, I’m still working,” Muhammad said. “This is what I love to do. This is my escape when I train, and nothing else matters, so just for my mental health, I’m continuing to grind. I’m not really going to big, public gyms anymore. I’m training in my team gym with a small group of people I trust that I know won’t come in if they’re feeling symptoms. That’s really all I can do. I feel like there’s a lot of mass panic from the media that’s making things worse, so I’m just going to continue to work until the power goes out.”
With the UFC being one of the last major organizations to succumb to the global pandemic, promotion officials received heavy criticism from the media and fans for going through with UFC on ESPN+ 28 in Brasilia last weekend and continuing to push for the events, despite the potential risks.
But Muhammad supports the UFC’s efforts. After all, he only gets paid when he fights.
“I feel like the media just wants to criticize Dana and the UFC because that’s what they do,” Muhammad said. “Anything he does, there’s going to be a critic or a hater, but he’s doing what any fighter would do. He’s fighting for the show. If I’m in charge, I’m deciding to fight, and I feel like any fighter is, too.
“These media members aren’t doctors, so their opinion about the virus doesn’t matter to me. There’s no sports on right now, so the only stories they can write about are the UFC being ‘irresponsible.’ If there’s no fans and everyone that’s in the arena at the time is willing to fight and be there, then let the show go on. As my man Dr. Drew says, stop listening to media; they’re creating panic.”
Time will tell as things continue to unfold over the next several weeks, but should his fight proceed with no crowd, Muhammad would be OK with that, too.
“I think it’ll be cool with no fans,” Muhammad said. “I think it’ll only affect the walkout and after the fight, but during the fights it won’t matter. I’m in the zone, so I only hear my opponents heartbeat.”
Original article: https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/2020/03/belal-muhammad-hopeful-ufc-249-takes-place-despite-covid-19/