Conor McGregor is going to some lengths to double down on his claims he has retired from the fight game.

The former featherweight and lightweight champion made his announcement in the immediate aftermath of UFC 250.

There were some rather sceptical reactions given McGregor has now said he is calling it quits for a third time in four years.

Still, following his initial tweet, McGregor spoke to ESPN about how he has lost his love for the game and opened up about frustrations over being offered "stupid fights" by UFC.

And, on Sunday, McGregor posted a picture on Instagram of cake with an icing inscription that read "Happy Retirement Daddy x".

It remains to be seen if this really is the end for 'The Notorious' in UFC, especially given the fact he had planned on fighting three times in 2020.

The first of those ended a 14-month hiatus and resulted in an impressive first-round victory over Donald Cerrone in January.

But the coronavirus pandemic has put paid to even the best laid plans and the stacked lightweight division has been particularly impacted.

Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was initially slated to face Tony Ferguson, only to have to pull out of the fight due to travel restrictions.

Ferguson instead went head to head with Justin Gaethje for the interim belt and suffered a brutal defeat that shook up the division.

With Gaethje expected to face Khabib to unify the belts later in the year, McGregor became frustrated by waiting around for an opponent.

Whether this is the end for McGregor or not, it really does look a tasty cake…

Conor McGregor explained his latest retirement announcement was because "the game does not excite" him and he is frustrated over being offered "stupid fights" by UFC.

The Irishman took to Twitter immediately after UFC 250 on Saturday to declare he has "decided to retire from fighting".

Understandably the post was met with some scepticism given this marks the third time in the space of four years McGregor – one of UFC's all-time biggest stars – has said he is calling it quits.

McGregor had spoken of plans to fight three times in 2020, which started with an emphatic win over Donald Cerrone in January, though the coronavirus pandemic threw a spanner in the works.

Things were further complicated in the lightweight division when Khabib Nurmagomedov's title defence against Tony Ferguson was cancelled, with Ferguson going on to lose a bout for the interim strap to Justin Gaethje.

McGregor, in an interview with ESPN's Ariel Helwani, said those factors had dampened his enthusiasm.

"The game just does not excite me, and that's that," McGregor said. "All this waiting around. There's nothing happening. 

"I'm going through opponent options, and there's nothing really there at the minute. There's nothing that's exciting me.

"They should have just kept the ball rolling. I mean, why are they pushing [Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Gaethje] back to September? You know what's going to happen in September, something else is going to happen in September, and that's not going to happen. 

"I laid out a plan and a method that was the right move, the right methods to go with. And they always want to balk at that and not make it happen or just drag it on. 

"Whatever I say, they want to go against it to show some kind of power. They should have just done the fight - me and Justin for the interim title - and just kept the ball rolling.

"I'm a bit bored of the game. I'm here watching the fight. I watched the last show - the [Tyron] Woodley-[Gilbert] Burns show - I watched the show tonight [UFC 250]. 

"I'm just not excited about the game. I don't know if it's no crowd. I don't know what it is. There's just no buzz for me."

It was reported the company wanted McGregor, UFC's first dual-weight champion, to fight again in July but, while money was not an issue, finding an opponent has been.

The legendary Anderson Silva challenged McGregor to a catchweight bout, which interested the 31-year-old but there is seemingly little clamour to book the showdown.

"I had my goals, my plans, the season. I had everything laid out," added McGregor. "Obviously the world has gone bleeding bonkers at the minute. 

"There's f*** all happening at the minute. They want to throw me up and down weights and offer me stupid fights. I don't really give a f***. I'm over it.

"There's nothing there for me. I'm trying to get excited. I'm trying my best. And when the Anderson one came along, I was like, 'Yeah, s***, that's a mad fight.'

"And then everyone said he's old and over the hill. I was, like, what? Fighting a former light heavyweight and the middleweight GOAT, and the actual GOAT in my eyes, that's not a rewardable fight? And you know, you're actually right. It wouldn't be rewarded. 

"I would go in there and put him away, and then what would happen? They'd say he's old and he's over the hill and he's past his prime and all.

"I don't know. It's just crazy. I was cutting to 155, and then because I asked for 155, they wanted to show power and stomp all over me. I don't know why they do this. But it was taken from me and then pushed back. 

"So then I'm thinking I don't want to be cutting if I'm fighting at 170. I have to be careful here. My body has to be correct to the weight. And then the 176 [Silva] talk. I'm just over it, man."

Conor McGregor says he has retired from the fight game but there is more than a sense of deja vu about the announcement.

The Irishman, who has a 22-4 MMA record, took to Twitter following UFC 250 to declare that he is stepping away from combat sports.

McGregor's comments have, understandably, been met with a degree of scepticism given this marks the third time in the space of four years the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion has said he is calling it quits.

Below, we take a look at the context surrounding each of his retirement announcements.


April 2016: "I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese."

It was over four years ago that McGregor, then aged 27, first hinted he was done with fighting when he tweeted: "I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese."

On that occasion it took just two days for McGregor to clarify he had not actually retired but had fallen out with UFC bosses over promotional work.

"I am paid to fight. I am not yet paid to promote. I have become lost in the game of promotion and forgot about the art of fighting," he explained.

"There comes a time when you need to stop handing out flyers and get back to the damn shop."

McGregor was pulled from UFC 200 that year where he was slated for a rematch with Nick Diaz, with president Dana White saying:  "I respect Conor as a fighter and I like him as a person, but you can't decide not to show up to these things.

McGregor would eventually avenge his Diaz defeat at UFC 202.
 

March 2019: "I've decided to retire from the sport formally known as 'Mixed Martial Art.'"

After reneging on his first retirement, McGregor went on to become UFC's first dual-weight champion by defeating Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight title.

A sign of his power to really transcend the fight game was his lucrative boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather in August 2017 but things became a little ugly when he returned to the Octagon to face Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018.

Bad blood in the build-up, which included McGregor attacking a bus carrying Khabib and other athletes, spilled over into fight night when, after Khabib scored a submission victory, the two camps were involved in an ugly post-bout fracas.

Five months later, McGregor said he was stepping away, writing on Twitter: "Hey guys quick announcement, I've decided to retire from the sport formally known as 'Mixed Martial Art' today.

"I wish all my old colleagues well going forward in competition. I now join my former partners on this venture, already in retirement. Proper Pina Coladas on me fellas!"

High-profile incidents away from the ring plagued McGregor and his decision came two weeks after he was charged for allegedly smashing and stealing a man's phone in Miami – charges that were later dropped dropped over inconsistencies in the victim's testimony.

In the meantime, McGregor launched his 'Proper Twelve' whiskey brand, leading White to say: "He's retiring from fighting, not from working. The whiskey will keep him busy and I'm sure he has other things he's working on."

But once again McGregor would reverse his decision…


June 2020: " Thank you all for the amazing memories! What a ride it's been!"

More issues away from MMA followed McGregor and in November last year he was fined €1,000 after pleading guilty to an assault of a man at a pub in Dublin.

But a refocused McGregor was booked to fight Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone, a contest he wrapped up emphatically in the first round in January, and he spoke of his desire to fight three times in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected those plans, while the direction of a talent-heavy lightweight division remains unclear.

Yet, the timing of McGregor's latest retirement announcement is perhaps the most surprising yet.

After UFC 250, he wrote on Twitter: "Hey guys I've decided to retire from fighting.

"Thank you all for the amazing memories! What a ride it's been! Here is a picture of myself and my mother in Las Vegas post one of my World title wins!

"Pick the home of your dreams Mags I love you! Whatever you desire it's yours."

Responding to the latest proclamtion, White said: "We're in a pandemic, the world is a crazy place right now. 

"If these guys want to sit out and retire right now, or if anybody feels uncomfortable in any shape or form about what's going on, you don't have to fight – it's all good. 

"So if that's what's Conor's feeling right now, Jon Jones, Jorge Masvidal, I feel you."

The smart thing to do right now would be to watch this space…

Conor McGregor's retirement announcements are becoming so frequent they should be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt.

The big-talking Irishman has twice previously said he is calling it quits from the fight game, once in 2016 and also in March last year, which came five months after his UFC 229 loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018.

Such a decision now appears strange given McGregor returned to the Octagon in January with a devastating first-round defeat of Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone and expressed plans to fight three times this year.

The coronavirus pandemic has likely scuppered that scenario but McGregor – who made his declaration on Twitter following UFC 250 – has still been vocal in baiting his rivals.

Still, if we are to take the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion at his word and this really is goodbye to an MMA legend, now is a good opportunity to look back at some of McGregor's most withering put downs of his opponents.

 

I RUN THIS WHOLE SHIP!

Ahead of his scrap with Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight belt at UFC 205 in November 2016, McGregor had some choice words for those who felt he received preferential treatment from president Dana White.

"I run this whole thing. I run New York. I run this whole ship. Without me none of this happens. I run this whole s***. Everyone in this game does what they're f****** told except for me and rightly f****** so. If I say you're on the prelims, you're on the f****** prelims. If I say main event, it's the f****** main event."

HIS WIFE AND KIDS WON'T RECOGNISE HIM!

Alvarez himself did not escape McGregor's ire, with the Irishman making some pretty gruesome promises.

"I'm going to toy with this man. I will rearrange his facial structure. His wife and kids won't recognise him again. His friends will know he's not the same after this contest. You're never, ever going to be the same. Your kids are going to beg, 'Daddy, please don't go again!'"

WHO THE F*** IS THAT GUY?!

When McGregor was asked prior to facing Alvarez who his biggest rival is, Jeremy Stephens called out: "Right here, the real hardest-hitting 145-pounder, right here." McGregor replied with a brutally simple six-word put-down.

"Who the f*** is that guy?!"

I'D LIKE TO APOLOGISE…TO ABSOLUTELY NOBODY!

McGregor kept his word to defeat Alvarez and become the first UFC fighter to hold belts in two divisions at the same time. His post-fight interview produced this absolute gem.

"I've ridiculed everyone on the roster, I just want to say from the bottom of my heart, I'd like to take this chance to apologise…to absolutely nobody!"

I CAN MAKE YOU RICH, I'LL CHANGE YOUR BUM LIFE!

Back in September 2015 at a 'Go Big' news conference, McGregor launched one of his most famous tirades. Replying to comments from Rafael dos Anjos, who was promoting a fight with Cerrone, he bragged about the attention he brings to UFC.

"I can make you rich. I'll change your bum life. You fight me, it's a celebration. When you sign to fight me, it's a celebration. You ring back home, you ring your wife, 'Baby, we've done it. We're rich baby. Conor McGregor made us rich. Break out the red panties.'”

YOU'RE STIFF AS A BOARD!

At the same media event, McGregor replied to Cerrone's assertion he could not cut it at 155lbs.

"You're too slow and you're too stiff. You're stiff as a board and I'd snap you in half, and that's it. I see stiffness when I look in the 155-pound division...slow, stiff, I feel like they're stuck in the mud almost. Yee-haw!"

I COULD BUY AND SELL YOU A HUNDRED TIMES OVER

The bad blood between McGregor and Nate Diaz drew some of the most heated comments from the Irishman.

"My socks are worth more than the suit you had on, you little bum. You're a broke b****. I could buy and sell you a hundred times over."

THE KING IS BACK!

After avenging his loss to Diaz by winning the rematch at UFC 202, McGregor had a simple message for his detractors.

"Surprise, surprise, motherf******! The king is back!”

I NEED TO FEED EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU IN THE GAME

McGregor was named Fighter of the Year for 2015. He was typically…let's say gracious...with his speech when accepting the award.

"I need to feed all you bums. I need to feed every single one of you in the game so I've got to keep working. Because you bums don't work."

KHABIB YOU ABSOLUTE EMBARRASSMENT!

Only last month, McGregor was calling out his lightweight rivals on social media with a brutal rant. Justin Gaethje, who sensationally defeated Tony Ferguson at UFC 249, and Khabib were his targets.

"Justin, there is no danger in a man that hugs legs, we all know. Try and dance around what the real threat is here all you want. I am going to f****** butcher you. Your teeth. I'm going to put them on a f****** necklace. Speak on my skills as a father? You are f****** dead."

"Khabib you absolute embarrassment. Scurrying, hiding rat as usual. As I have said many times. As has been seen many times."

Conor McGregor said he is retiring from fighting, the UFC star announced via social media.

McGregor made the announcement on Twitter following UFC 250 in Las Vegas on Saturday, however, it is not the first time the Irishman has called it quits.

Former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion McGregor said he was retiring in March 2019 after losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in October 2018, while he also did the same in 2016.

But McGregor returned to the octagon with a devastating first-round TKO of Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 in January.

UFC president Dana White recently said he had not talked to McGregor about his next fight amid the coronavirus pandemic as the 31-year-old eyed a bout.

But after Amanda Nunes and Cody Garbrandt celebrated wins, McGregor wrote: "Hey guys I’ve decided to retire from fighting.

"Thank you all for the amazing memories! What a ride it’s been! Here is a picture of myself and my mother in Las Vegas post one of my World title wins!

"Pick the home of your dreams Mags I love you! Whatever you desire it's yours."

McGregor – who last month said he had accepted a proposal to fight against Anderson Silva – has earned a 22-4 record in mixed martial arts, with just two losses in the UFC.

He also stepped into the boxing ring to fight unbeaten American legend Floyd Mayweather Jr, losing in 2017.

Asked about McGregor on Saturday, White told reporters: "Nobody is pressuring anybody to fight. And if Conor McGregor feels he wants to retire, you know my feelings about retirement -- you should absolutely do it. And I love Conor...there's a handful of people that have made this really fun for me. And he's one of them."

White added: "If that's what Conor is feeling right now -- Jon Jones, Jorge Masvidal, I feel you. It's not like I'm going, 'Holy s***, this is crazy, this is nuts.'

"Nothing is crazy and nuts right now, because everything is crazy and nuts right now, on a certain level. I totally understand it and get it."

Dana White said he has not talked to Conor McGregor about his next fight, while the UFC president believes Mike Tyson has something "lined up" ahead of his reported boxing return.

UFC star McGregor has not fought since January and the Irishman is itching to return to the octagon amid the coronavirus pandemic.

McGregor has been vocal on social media, calling out Justin Gaethje earlier this month after the American dominated Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 behind closed doors in Jacksonville, Florida.

Asked about McGregor, White said the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion just needs to bide his time.

"Conor and I have not talked about fighting," White told ESPN. "If you're Conor, sitting at home, everybody is calling you out, in every weight division. Who's next?

"I'm waiting for [heavyweight Daniel Cormier] to call him out, you know? Conor, his personality, he's going to respond to that.

"I think what Conor needs to do is sit back and let these fights start rolling out. Obviously, the most important division is the 155-pound [lightweight] division. See what plays out."

Away from the octagon and in boxing, legendary fighter Tyson appears to be closing in on a stunning comeback.

Former heavyweight champion Tyson last fought professionally in 2005 but the 53-year-old has cut an incredibly fit figure amid links to Evander Holyfield, Tito Ortiz and Tyson Fury.

"Originally, I came out and said, 'Listen, I'd like Mike not to fight,'" said White. "I even got Mike a TV show, to try and keep him from fighting. But Mike Tyson is a grown man, he can do whatever. The guy is powerful, looks explosive and has gotten himself in great shape.

"From what I'm hearing from them, they have something lined up, something big. He's going to get in there. We talked about it and he said, 'Listen, I feel that fire in my stomach. I want to get in there and mix it up again.' I'm fully supportive of him."

Khabib Nurmagomedov branded Conor McGregor the "greatest UFC fighter in Twitter history" in response to his rival's GOAT list posted on social media.

Former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion McGregor revealed his top four on Saturday, putting Anderson Silva at number one but making clear the Brazilian has some stiff competition to be considered the greatest - from the Irishman himself, of course.

"My array of finishes, across 3 divisions, with champion status in 2, I'm No.2. If not tied 1," McGregor wrote on Twitter. "However [I'm] still active, No.1 is fully secured by career end. And easily."

Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones also made the list, but there was no place for undefeated lightweight champion Khabib.

Asked to explain the Russian's absence, McGregor replied: "Fancy record but a way to go before any GOAT entry.

"Only HL [highlight] is win over me with hangover and broken foot. Other than that, made Iaquinta's career with bad performance before Cerrone ended it again. 3rds to get Poirier out. 0 array of finishes. Bottled many bouts. Zero else of note."

Khabib, who defeated McGregor by submission at UFC 229 in 2018, countered with a tweet of his own, pointing out what he perceives to be fundamental flaws in McGregor's own case.

"You tapped out in featherweight, you tapped out in lightweight and you tapped in welterweight," Khabib wrote.

"You never defended title in the UFC or Cage Warriors, you gave up more than GSP, Spider and Bones all together. You greatest UFC fighter in Twitter history."

Jones also got involved in the debate, putting up a list of fighters to have the most wins in UFC title bouts - with McGregor obviously not among them - along with the comment: "Goat where you at."

The light-heavyweight champion also later quote-tweeted Khabib's post, adding: "Like I said I’ll let the fans do the debating for me, thanks Khabib."

Conor McGregor believes Anderson Silva is the greatest MMA fighter of all time but expects to surpass the Brazilian by the end of his career.

Former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion McGregor explained who he considers to be the best to have stepped into the Octagon.

The outspoken Irishman ranked himself second to former middleweight king Silva, though he clarified he would be top of the list if failed drug tests were taken into account.

McGregor also included former welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre and light-heavyweight title-holder Jon Jones in his rankings.

He posted on Twitter: "The array of finishes, across 2 divisions, with champion status in 1, Anderson Silva is No.1 MMA GOAT.

"My array of finishes, across 3 divisions, with champion status in 2, I'm No.2. If not tied 1.

"However [I'm] still active, No.1 is fully secured by career end. And easily.

"GSP [St-Pierre] is in at 3. Much less array of finishes but champion status in 2. He is far behind though. Reasons = Left 170[lb division] after much damage taken + questionable decision. Never re-engaged 170lb successors. Bottled Anderson fight. Only moved [to middleweight] when one-eyed fighter [Michael Bisping] presented. Played safe.

"Jon is 4. Maybe tied 3. More array of finishes than 3 and still active, but champion status in just 1. Reasons = Multiple lacklustre decision performances + questionable decision win. Attempting to safe play HW [heavyweight] entry/avoiding its champion."

McGregor added: "I didn't mentions PED results on multiple entrants, even though that makes me the clear current No.1 MMA GOAT, along with still being active.

"Although it shames, as well as puts all runs+finishes in complete doubt, I've snored multiple juice heads. A true GOAT must do it all.

"Clarity on Silva's earlier no.1 spot. Most stylistic finishes on resume. Front kicks to face. Up elbow (albeit outside UFC) Thai plum knees leading to broken facial bones. Long list of jaw dropping finishes. Myself/Anderson have the most exciting/important finishes in the sport!

"One more on George/Jon decision that will clear why I originally gave George 3 and Jon 4 before a maybe tied 3. A lot of Jon's opponents were Anderson's 185lb opponents but the array of stoppages were not there, or nowhere near Anderson's despite the weight advantage to do so."

Conor McGregor has welcomed high praise from Mike Tyson and promised on his life he will "crack the puzzle" to win an "inevitable rematch" with Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Heavyweight great Tyson, who recently revealed he was coming out of retirement, talked up UFC star McGregor's showing when he was beaten by the legendary Mayweather in his professional boxing debut in 2017.

The former world champion said in the latest edition of his Hotboxin' with Mike Tyson podcast: "He [McGregor] never really had a boxing match in his life, right?

"He went 10 rounds with the greatest fighter in the last 100 years of boxing. He went 10 rounds, scored punches on the greatest fighter in the last 100 years.

"Did he do something? Did he accomplish something? People should look who he had the fight against and look what he did when he fought against him."

Mayweather, who quit with a perfect 50-0 record, says he has no interest in boxing again but is open to the idea of more fights that give him a chance to "entertain and have a little fun".

McGregor expressed his gratitude to Tyson and vowed to gain revenge in a second fight with Mayweather that he believes is bound to happen.

He tweeted: "Thank you Mike, and just know that for the inevitable rematch, with the knowledge I now hold of Floyd's style, plus under the tutelage of my old school boxing coach, I will crack the puzzle, and I will beat Floyd.

"I promise my life on it. It is great to see you back Iron Mike."

Conor McGregor sent a classy message to Khabib Nurmagomedov after reports the Russian's father and coach, Abdulmanap, was in a coma.

Abdulmanap, 57, was placed in a medically induced coma after complications from pneumonia, reports in Russia said on Wednesday.

McGregor threatened Khabib, the unbeaten lightweight champion, in an explosive Twitter rant on Monday, but put their feud aside to send his well-wishes to the Russian.

"Praying for the recovery of Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov," the Irishman wrote on Twitter.

"A man responsible for more world champions, across multiple fighting disciplines, than we even know. A true martial genius!

"Very saddened upon hearing this news tonight. Praying for the Nurmagomedov family at this time."

UFC president Dana White also offered his regards to Khabib and the Nurmagomedov family.

"Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov is a true martial artist who lives a life of pride, honour and respect," he said in a statement.

"He instilled those same values in his son, world champion Khabib, at an early age and was always in his corner throughout his career. I know how close Khabib is with his father and I'm saddened to hear about his current state.

"My thoughts are with Abdulmanap and the Nurmagomedov family as he continues to fight."

Khabib beat McGregor in an infamous bout in Las Vegas in October 2018, and is 28-0.

Dana White expects a UFC lightweight unification bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje to be staged on 'Fight Island' next month.

Gaethje turned his attention to a showdown with undisputed champion Khabib after beating Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 last weekend to take the interim title.

Khabib was due to fight Ferguson in Brooklyn last month, but that battle could not go ahead due to the coronavirus pandemic - with the Russian stuck in Dagestan.

Gaethje grasped his chance to replace Khabib and he is now set to get his shot at the 31-year-old.

UFC boss White revealed what has been christened 'Fight Island' - a secretive location off the coast of the United States - remains under construction, but should be ready for the pair to lock horns by the end of June.

He told ESPN 1000 Chicago: "I don't know if it will be the first one [bout], but it will be on Fight Island, unless miraculously the world comes back together faster than I think it's gonna."

White added: "Hopefully it will be done by mid-June, and I could put on a fight that weekend that it's done or end of June."

Conor McGregor called out Gaethje with a social media rant on Monday, but White said the Irishman will have to wait.

He added: "Any time Conor McGregor is fighting, it's exciting, but yeah, I'm very excited for Gaethje versus Khabib.

"I think stylistically it's a great matchup. I'm looking forward to it."

Conor McGregor threatened Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje in an explosive Twitter rant on Monday.

McGregor, 31, was last in action in January, but is seemingly ready for a return, even if it is behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Irishman blasted both Khabib, the unbeaten lightweight champion, and Gaethje, who beat Tony Ferguson on Saturday.

"The fans make the sport! Watching the other night I was against going in without them," McGregor wrote on Twitter.

"But it will be my f****** pleasure to display the power I possess with zero background noise for them. Its [sic] me and Justin next as khabib is the biggest bottle fighter in the game. Guarantee it."

McGregor continued: "Justin, there is no danger in a man that hugs legs, we all know. Try and dance around what the real threat is here all you want. I am going to f****** butcher you. Your teeth. I'm going to put them on a f****** necklace. Speak on my skills as a father? You are f****** dead."

"Khabib you absolute embarrassment. Scurrying, hiding rat as usual. As I have said many times. As has been seen many times," McGregor continued.

"Through the pane of glass it was confirmed what was always known. "No comment" lol. An embarrassment to real fighting."

Khabib beat McGregor in an infamous bout in Las Vegas in October 2018, and is 28-0.

The Russian hit back on Twitter, and alongside a photo of their fight wrote: "Yes, we remember you, you was so nice that night, be same, don't be fake."

UFC returned behind closed doors in Jacksonville and the overriding feeling afterwards could be summed up using just one word - wow!

The coronavirus pandemic forced UFC 249 - and the original main event of Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Tony Ferguson in Brooklyn – to be called off.

Instead, Ferguson ended up facing Justin Gaethje, the man who had stepped in for the original April 18 date before operations were suspended by president Dana White due to the global health crisis.

And Gaethje caused an upset in monumental fashion when the pair finally met on Saturday, putting on a brutal display to stop Ferguson and claim the interim lightweight belt, leading him to immediately call out Khabib.

Before a strike had even landed in a thrilling main event, fans watching at home were reacting to Henry Cejudo's surprise retirement announcement after defending his bantamweight strap against Dominick Cruz.

After an action-packed card, it is time to look at the main takeaways from UFC 249.


GAETHJE EARNS SHOT AT KHABIB

Whatever the circumstances and whatever factors were against Ferguson, nothing should be taken away from Gaethje. An opportunity presented itself and he emphatically grasped it, putting on a punishing clinic against an all-time great. The landscape of a star-studded lightweight division was altered dramatically, too. The winner immediately called out unbeaten champion Khabib, who provides a fearsome mountain to climb but it is a shot Gaethje fully deserves following his latest success.

FERGUSON'S GALLANTRY PROVES COSTLY

It was a night that belonged to Gaethje, there is no doubting that. But Ferguson deserves immense credit for never shying away from a fight. For the majority of the past six months he has been preparing for the grappling skills of Khabib, as opposed to the striking ability of Gaethje. You also have to take into account Ferguson cut weight twice in the past four weeks – he was originally due to fight in April, of course - which is bound to have had an effect. Ferguson, though, is always ready and willing – yet perhaps that gallantry cost him in the end.

McGREGOR NEXT FOR TONY?

Gaethje's path looks pretty well set now for the next few months and, if travel restrictions are lifted enough, Khabib surely lies in wait before the end of 2020. Originally, UFC's plan appeared to be for Gaethje to face Conor McGregor, with the victor of that bout taking on whoever triumphed between Khabib and Ferguson. Ferguson has seen a showdown with Khabib scrapped five times and this defeat means that long-awaited dance may now never happen. But McGregor's plans are also up in the air now Gaethje looks out of the question for this year. It stands to reason, then, that UFC should look to book Ferguson against McGregor.

IS CEJUDO REALLY RETIRED?

On a card containing several jaw-dropping moments, bantamweight champion Cejudo threw a spanner in the works when he announced his retirement after scoring a contentious second-round stoppage over the returning Cruz. UFC boss White later said it was an option Cejudo had been pondering for some time, but that he did not know the announcement was coming at UFC 249. The thing is, in the MMA game, the lure of just one more fight often proves too much to resist. At 33, Cejudo still has plenty more to give so, while he may be retired now, keep watching this space…

It's UFC but not as we know it.

The coronavirus pandemic is drastically changing the landscape of sport and the world of UFC is no different.

UFC 249 was originally due to take place in the middle of April but that event and several others scheduled to take place after were unable to go ahead as operations were suspended.

But president Dana White was determined to forge ahead and the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, will host a rearranged behind-closed-doors UFC 249 on Saturday.

Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje will battle it out for the interim lightweight title, while Henry Cejudo meets the returning legend Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight strap.

Here, we answer the big questions ahead of Saturday's action…


IS IT SAFE TO FIGHT?

About as safe as it can be in the current world climate. White said last month "it's not going to be cheap. It's going to be expensive" so UFC will be doing everything they can to ensure a safe environment for the show. The event has the backing of the state of Florida and, crucially, ESPN – whose intervention was part of the reason an April 18 date was kiboshed. As a sign it can be done, WWE has filmed shows out of Orlando without fans including its flagship pay-per-view Wrestlemania. That's not to say it is completely risk free but UFC is pulling out all the stops.


WHAT PROTOCOLS ARE IN PLACE?

First and foremost, and somewhat self-explanatory, no fans will be attendance at the venue. All the fighters will be subjected to stringent daily testing at a sealed off hotel, which will extend to team members and all staff working on the event. According to ESPN, UFC is to administer the diagnostic swap coronavirus test and the antibody test, while fighters will be encouranged not to mingle in large groups. Individual workout rooms are to be provided to ensure fighters can train and cut weight, and each will be equipped with mats, mat sanitiser and a personal sauna. Meals will be provided for those who want it at scheduled times and outside hotel room doors.


HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THE FERGUSON-GAETHJE FIGHT?

In terms of the lightweight division, extremely. The interim belt will be on the line in the co-main event and the winner will likely be next in line to fight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Ferguson of course was supposed to be fighting Khabib in Brooklyn before travel restrictions prevented the champion from entering the United States and the show was scrapped altogether. It was the fifth time a scheduled bout between the two had been cancelled but an opportunity has presented itself for Gaethje. If he can pull off a huge win then the division's path will have changed drastically. If Ferguson wins then surely he and Khabib will finally meet in the Octagon further down the road.


IS CRUZ THE RIGHT OPPONENT FOR CEJUDO?

Cejudo is the kind of guy you either love or hate – there's not much middle ground. His achievements should not be underplayed, though. This is a guy who four years ago suffered a humbling first-round knockout defeat to Demetrious Johnson, only to go away, get better and dethrone the all-time great from the flyweight throne in August 2018. He went on to defeat TJ Dillashaw, who stepped down a division, and then became a two-belt champion by overcoming Marlon Moraes to claim the bantamweight strap almost a year ago. But since then Cejudo's motives have been questionable, calling out legends such as Frankie Edgar, Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo. Dominick Cruz is considered by most as the greatest bantamweight of all time but he has not fought since dropping the belt in a shock loss to Cody Garbrandt in December 2016 with injuries cruelly denying him the opportunity to work his way back to the top. At this stage it's hard to see Cruz as a title contender and Cejudo might be better served proving himself against a high-ranked challenger such as Aljamain Sterling.


WHERE'S AMANDA NUNES?

Two-weight champion Amanda Nunes was said to have had a verbal agreement to defend her featherweight belt against Felicia Spencer as part of a co-main event. However, the brilliant Brazilian – who is on a 10-fight winning streak – stated last month she would not be part of a May 9 card. Nunes explained that she wanted a full camp to prepare for a title defence and that she would reassess the situation for a possible fight in June.


WHAT ELSE IS ON THE CARD?

In a stacked card, Francis Ngannou will take on Jairzinho Rozenstruik in a heavyweight bout that was due to headline UFC: Colombus before coronavirus got in the way. A win for either would enhance their claims to a title shot. Also on the main card, Jeremy Stephens and Calvin Kattar will meet in a featherweight fight, while Greg Hardy and Yorgan de Castro wage war in the heavyweight division. And among the prelims, long-time fan favourites Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis will face off - the former having lost to Conor McGregor as recently as January.

When opportunity knocks in UFC you had better be ready to answer and Justin Gaethje has one hell of a chance to shake up a stacked lightweight division against Tony Ferguson on Saturday.

Things were supposed to be very different. For one thing Ferguson was finally meant to dance with long-term foe Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title in front a packed-out crowd at Brooklyn's Barclays Center on April 18.

But the coronavirus pandemic left champion Khabib unable to travel to the United States and, after Gaethje had been drafted in as an opponent, the plug was finally pulled on the event when ESPN and parent company Disney intervened.

Yet here we are just a few weeks later and the show will go on, albeit in vastly different circumstances.

UFC president Dana White confirmed last month UFC 249 will go ahead without fans on May 9 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, with only essential personnel permitted to attend.

Ferguson remains top of the bill and will go up against fellow American Gaethje for the interim lightweight belt in a bout that can alter the course of a division swimming in talent.

As well as unbeaten champion Khabib, the return of Conor McGregor throws a monumental spanner into the works, while Dustin Poirier – who may have fallen short in his bid to defeat Khabib – remains an active threat.

Here's a recap of how things have played out at 145lbs in the past few months…


MCGREGOR RETURN SHAKES THINGS UP

Love him or hate him, McGregor is money and the Irishman being active can only be a good thing for UFC and the bank balances of those facing him. The former two-weight champion appears to have rediscovered his love of the MMA game and he set out a three-fight plan for 2020 (which admittedly appears unlikely to be fulfilled now given the global health crisis). The first of those resulted in a convincing first-round stoppage of UFC legend Donald Cerrone and the plan, you would assume, was likely to face Gaethje before building towards a huge rematch with Khabib. Regardless of how the next chapter in this division plays out, an active, healthy and focused McGregor certainly makes this interesting.


FERGUSON-KHABIB CANCELLED AGAIN

It was always hard to look beyond a McGregor win given Cerrone's advancing years and the next part of the lightweight story was meant to be Khabib and Ferguson finally going head-to-head in the Octagon. On four prior occasions these two huge names in the world of MMA were booked to fight only for a combination of injuries and rotten luck to deny fans this dream encounter. So, when the coronavirus outbreak meant the bout was scuppered for a fifth time it did little to change the perception of Khabib-Ferguson being a cursed fight. It would be a crying shame should these two never meet and surely one day their paths will cross but things may yet play out a little differently…


SURPRISE OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR GAETHJE

White likes to reward fighters who are active and willing to go at short notice. Gaethje has certainly proven himself to be just that in recent weeks and that attitude could pay off in a huge way if he can find a way past Ferguson. Gaethje is ranked fourth in the lightweight division after rebounding from damaging defeats to Eddie Alvarez and Poirier with a trio of impressive wins over James Vick, Edson Barbosa and Cerrone. The natural order of things really should have been for Gaethje to face McGregor and the winner of that fight to meet the victor of Khabib-Ferguson. But we are where we are and Gaethje has a monumental opportunity to stake his claim as the next in line to face Khabib and truly mix things up in the lightweight division.

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