The UFC, like many sports organizations, has had to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past year. Some of the most exciting matchups never came to fruition, and the fatal virus was detrimental to the fighters. One fighter even considered retiring from MMA.
Dana White and his company were the first major organization to resume live sports after the COVID-19 pandemic had halted the rest of the world. UFC 249 marked the return of the promotion following a two-month absence. Since then, every UFC show has gone on as scheduled, albeit with a few hiccups.
Although many of the events did materialize, some exciting fights didn't. We look at three of the best UFC fights that were called off because of COVID-19:
#3 Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson (UFC 249)
The main event of UFC 249 was originally supposed to be a highly-awaited scrap between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. 'El Cucuy' was on a 12-fight win streak, making him the Dagestani's most dangerous opponent. However, the bout was canceled for the fifth time due to travel restrictions imposed in Russia because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UFC 249 was scheduled to take place on April 18, 2020. Nurmagomedov was training at the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) and looked set to defend his belt for the third time. In late March, the 32-year-old decided to leave for Russia. A few days later, the Russian government closed their borders to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Nurmagomedov, however, could still perhaps have made his way into the United States through a private jet. However, 'The Eagle' remained reluctant with the idea and decided to stay put owing to the pandemic.
The UFC was forced to replace Nurmagomedov with Justin Gaethje, who put on a stunning performance against Ferguson at UFC 249. 'The Highlight' won the fight via TKO in the final round and claimed the interim UFC lightweight championship.
#2 Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega (UFC 260)
Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega were scheduled to fight each other at UFC 260. 'T-City' was coming off a dominating win over Chan Sung Jung, which earned him a crack at the UFC featherweight title. Meanwhile, Volkanovski defeated Max Holloway in his previous outing.
Just a week before the event, it was revealed that Volkanovski had tested positive for COVID-19. The title clash was eventually called off, and Volkanovski later admitted that he had a hard time recovering from the virus.
Their featherweight title clash is now rumored to take place at UFC 266, which will be held on September 4 this year.
#1 Khamzat Chimaev vs. Leon Edwards (UFC Vegas 17, UFC Fight Island 8, UFC Vegas 21)
Khamzat Chimaev's meteoric rise in the UFC earned him a big fight opposite Leon Edwards. The duo was first expected to lock horns at UFC Vegas 17 on December 19, 2020. However, the bout was pulled from the card after the Englishman tested positive for COVID-19.
The UFC later rescheduled the bout to January 20, 2021. This time around, it was Chimaev who contracted the virus. The two were then expected to face each other on March 13, but the Chechen-born fighter was forced to pull out due to 'lingering COVID-19 symptoms'.
Edwards ended up challenging Belal Muhammad at UFC Vegas 21. The fight was ruled a no-contest after 'Rocky' unintentionally poked Muhammad in the eye in the second round.