The eagerly anticipated UFC 209 co-main event clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson set for Saturday (March 4) has been called off on health grounds.
Less than 24 hours before the fight was due to take place, UFC confirmed that Nurmagomedov, "The Eagle", was taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Nevada on Thursday night for what was described as "weight management medical issues".
He was treated and discharged but his interim title bout against Ferguson was cancelled on the recommendation of a doctor. Such a fight looked set to determine who would face Conor McGregor next, with the official lightweight champion currently taking an extended break while he awaits the birth of his first child.
"I feel bad for Tony and his camp, I really do," Nurmagomedov's manager, Ali Abdel-Aziz, told MMA Fighting. "The most important thing right now is Khabib's health.
"He's currently resting in his room. We're not thinking about what's next. I want to sincerely apologise to Tony, his team, the UFC and the fans. We were all looking forward to this fight very much."
This is the third time that a prospective contest between the two fighters has been cancelled. Nurmagomedov was forced to pull out of the November 2015 Ultimate Fighter finale because of a broken rib and a rebooked meeting at UFC on Fox 19 in Tampa last April was also scrapped when Ferguson revealed that he had fluid and blood in his lungs.
Is it unclear if another opponent will be sought for Ferguson at short notice or a lesser fight bumped up the UFC 209 card to fill the gap. Michael Johnson, who beat Ferguson in 2012 and was submitted by Nurmagomedov in November, claims he is ready to give El Cucuy a rematch. Former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and Lando Vannata could also be in the mix.
Taking to Twitter to respond to the shock late withdrawal, Ferguson, who weighed in at 154.5lbs earlier on Friday, said: "I hope you feel better Khabib. I pray for your recovery. I mean it, get better."
UFC 209 will be headlined by a welterweight title rematch between Tyron Woodley and Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson.