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Khamzat Chimaev out of UFC main event vs. Whittaker with illness

The highly anticipated return of Khamzat Chimaev will have to wait.

The undefeated fighter was set to headline the UFC's first event in Saudi Arabia on June 22 against former champion Robert Whittaker. However, UFC president Dana White announced Thursday that Chimaev has been pulled from the main event of UFC on ABC 6 because he has been "violently ill."

Chimaev will be replaced by Ikram Aliskerov (15-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC), who was slated to face Antonio Trocoli in the co-main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night event at the UFC Apex.

The removal of Chimaev began a roller coaster day for the promotion. Hours after the Chimaev news was announced, UFC 303 lost its much anticipated headliner between Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler because of a McGregor injury. Instead, Alex Pereira will defend his light heavyweight championship against Jiri Proch√°zka on that card's main event.

Despite having a little over a week's notice, the UFC didn't have to look far to find a replacement for Chimaev, as Aliskerov, who has only lost to Chimaev in his MMA career, answered the call. Aliskerov gets a massive bump in competition in his third UFC bout, going from facing an unranked middleweight to the former 185-pound champion. In Aliskerov's last outing in October, he stopped Warlley Alves in the first round.

As for Chimaev, 30, his availability to compete has been an issue over the past couple of years after his meteoric rise following his 2020 debut. He has competed only once since submitting Kevin Holland in September 2022, with a majority decision win over former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in October. Also in October, one of Chimaev's coaches revealed that visa difficulties because of his Chechen nationality and Russian passport have prevented "Borz" from competing in the United States, leaving the UFC to find international fight cards for Chimaev.

The Saudi Arabia card was thought to be the perfect event for Chimaev to make his return in what was likely a middleweight title eliminator against Whittaker. However, a photo from one of his sparring partners showed Chimaev in bed with an unknown illness. White emphasized that Chimaev was ill and wished him a return to good health.