Editor's note: This has been updated after the news Monday that Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje are signed to fight at UFC 249 on April 18 for the interim lightweight belt.
UFC president Dana White provided some clarity Monday, stating who will fight in the main event of UFC 249 and when, but the where is still unsolved.
It marks the fifth time a fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson was canceled, for a variety of reasons.
How will Gaethje fare after not having a full fight camp? Ferguson has been training for Nurmagomedov and is ready. For what it's worth, Dustin Poirier recently said he gives the edge to Gaethje.
Gaethje had been pegged as Conor McGregor's next opponent, possibly for the International Fight Week card on July 11. Did Gaethje make a mistake accepting this fight and risking the McGregor bout?
ESPN's panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi addresses those topics and more.
How do you see Ferguson vs. Gaethje unfolding?
Helwani: The big question is, what kind of shape is Gaethje in? He has said he doesn't like to take short-notice fights and he wasn't scheduled to fight until the summer. If he is in relatively good shape, I don't think it goes the distance, and I think it's a wild, fun fight.
Okamoto: If I made a list of the most entertaining fighters to watch in the UFC right now, Ferguson and Gaethje would be near the top. Gaethje is a human wrecking ball who knows only one direction: forward. Ferguson is a dancing, spinning, somersaulting acrobat of a lightweight. They have two of the highest pain thresholds I've ever seen. We love hyperbole in sports, and we get carried away all the time. But the only way to describe this matchup is a fight-of-the-decade contender, and I honestly don't know who would win. Under these circumstances, though, lean Tony. He's got a full camp in.
Raimondi: Any fights right now would be a total wild card. I'd have to give the advantage to Ferguson, because he has been in training camp since before the coronavirus pandemic. Right now, it seems like just about every gym in the United States is closed and there are guidelines everywhere about social distancing. Can anyone be as prepared as much as they normally would be? Highly doubtful.
How big of a risk is this for Gaethje?
Helwani: Gaethje was in talks to fight McGregor next, per sources. So if he loses this fight, he'd likely lose that shot, too. But, who knows if that fight will even happen now and when normalcy resumes, so I guess he might as well take the payday, because if he wins he might get a title shot as a result.
Okamoto: It's not a risk for Gaethje. It's an opportunity. Yeah, there's been some talk about him possibly fighting McGregor this year, but there's always talk about McGregor fighting somebody. You don't have a fight with McGregor until you have a fight with McGregor. If Gaethje goes out and beats Ferguson on short notice, in a fight-of-the-year candidate, on a pay-per-view that's put on during a global pandemic in which it's essentially the only sport in town, that's a lot of momentum he picks up.
Raimondi: It's a risk, but not a massive one. He is coming in on short notice with the inability to have a true training camp. And there's the potential of losing out on the possible McGregor bout. But who knows what the world and the UFC calendar will look like in a few months? Maybe McGregor is moved in another direction. Best-case scenario is Gaethje wins and he's next in line for a title shot or a McGregor fight and possibly the biggest fight purse of his career.
Gaethje was expected to be Conor's next opponent in July; whom do you see McGregor fighting next?
Helwani: Impossible to predict. So much can change. I don't think we should rule out Nurmagomedov, though. The UFC will try to make the biggest fight possible for McGregor the moment it can.
Okamoto: If the winner is willing and able to make a quick turnaround, I think the UFC would definitely consider pairing him with McGregor. That would be a summer blockbuster fight, and Nurmagomedov would be waiting for the eventual winner. But Nurmagomedov also told me he'd be ready to fight by August, so if Ferguson were to win, perhaps the UFC would elect to give Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson another shot and have McGregor wait for the winner. If there is a way to have the interim titleholder fight Nurmagomedov in August, and then have McGregor waiting for the champion in an end of year matchup, that's a pretty strong plan.
Raimondi: White hasn't made it a secret that he wants McGregor to face Nurmagomedov next. I'd expect the UFC to push for that to be the next fight. Whether Nurmagomedov accepts that or not we don't know. The UFC might force the issue, especially since now the promotion probably is not happy Nurmagomedov won't fight at UFC 249.
Could Jorge Masvidal still be a possibility for McGregor? It seems like the Kamaru Usman vs. Masvidal welterweight title fight is all but agreed to -- at some point -- but the calendar is currently unclear. When fights do start up again normally, the UFC will likely want to make the biggest splash possible. McGregor vs. Masvidal would be enormous. Or how about Diaz? The trilogy fight between him and McGregor is out there and a good option for a huge fight.
After it's fallen through five times, is it time to move away from Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson?
Helwani: Nah. Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson will happen when the time is right. Unfortunately, the stars haven't aligned, but I think it happens at some point and if the opportunity presents itself to book it again, I think they should.
Okamoto: Never. It has to happen. I'm not superstitious. I believe the reason this fight hasn't happened is nothing more than 100% terrible, awful, insanely bad luck. And I don't know if it'll happen the sixth time it's booked. Or the seventh. Or the 15th. But I still want it!
Raimondi: Absolutely not. I don't believe in curses. Sure, this has all been inexplicable. But Nurmagomedov and Ferguson are undoubtedly the two top lightweights in the world. The UFC was always built around the idea of finding out who is better, going back to its founding in 1993. Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson has to happen at some point, which is why in an ideal world the UFC would pump the brakes on UFC 249 and do that title fight at a later date, perhaps the fall. It is very much a matchup worth preserving. And if and when it does come together, it'll be a momentous occasion and cause for celebration. The wait will have been worth it.