A highly anticipated lightweight title fight between interim champion Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov has been canceled just six days before it was supposed to headline UFC 223 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
UFC president Dana White told ESPN on Sunday that Ferguson (23-3) has withdrawn from the bout due to a torn knee ligament. In a Twitter post, Ferguson wrote that he suffered the injury in an accident on a studio set while fulfilling his prefight media obligations on Friday.
Featherweight champion Max Holloway (19-3) has agreed to take Ferguson's place and will face Nurmagomedov (25-0) for the lightweight title. The 155-pound bout will still headline UFC 223 on April 7.
"He's a stud," White said of Holloway accepting the bout on short notice. "The guy hasn't lost a fight since 2013, and that was a decision to Conor McGregor.
"He's the type of guy that steps up for opportunities like this. And when you think about it, if he wins this fight, other than Conor McGregor, he will be the only guy to hold two belts at the same time."
As of today, McGregor (21-3) remains the UFC's official lightweight champion, but he is expected to lose that title as soon as Nurmagomedov and Holloway square off. McGregor became a two-weight champion in late 2016 but has not fought in the UFC since.
White said the promotion did not reach out to McGregor as a potential replacement for Ferguson. McGregor expressed interest last month in returning on short notice against Frankie Edgar at UFC 222, but the promotion doesn't want to bring its top star back under those circumstances.
"I don't think Conor McGregor could make the weight on six days' notice. That's a tough weight cut for him," White said. "And Conor is not the guy I want to throw in as a late replacement fighter. He's a guy I want to make a fight with and have the right amount of time to promote the fight.
"I think Conor could return in September, and it could be against one of these guys."
Per White, Ferguson is expected to lose his interim title, which he won by defeating Kevin Lee at UFC 216 in October.
"That goes away," White said. "This fight is for the title. The winner of this fight will be the champion."
Nurmagomedov, of Dagestan, is on a nine-fight winning streak at lightweight, while Holloway, of Hawaii, has won 12 in a row in the UFC's featherweight division.
Nurmagomedov has opened as a minus-505 betting favorite against Holloway (plus-365), according to MMAOddsBreaker.com.
The UFC has tried to pair Ferguson and Nurmagomedov on four occasions, all of which have fallen through for various reasons. When asked if he would be willing to book the fight a fifth time, White responded, "Hell no."
Nurmagomedov appeared to take a shot at Ferguson in an Instagram post Sunday night:
Tony heal up man. Just want to advise you, don't talk too much anymore. Lot of thoughts in my head right now, but I don't want to become like you. Hope, this lesson will teach you watch your mouth. ❗️ На счёт этой ситуации я просто хочу сказать Тони: больше не болтай, в голове конечно много мыслей, на тебя похожим не буду, надеюсь этот урок научить тебя следить за языком. #ready #ufc223 #Alhamdulillah #победатолькоотВсевышнего