LAS VEGAS (AP) — Khabib Nurmagomedov's UFC interim lightweight title bout with Tony Ferguson was canceled Friday after Nurmagomedov was hospitalized due to problems making weight.
One of the most anticipated bouts of the year was scrapped one day before UFC 209 at T-Mobile Arena.
Nurmagomedov was taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center on Thursday night, the mixed martial arts promotion said. He was treated and discharged, but the UFC still canceled the fight on the recommendation of Nurmagomedov's doctors.
"It's obviously a huge blow," UFC President Dana White said.
The UFC hasn't decided whether to reschedule the bout, White added.
Nurmagomedov (24-0) and Ferguson (23-3) have been matched in two previous bouts that also were canceled due to medical problems for both fighters. Nurmagomedov has won all eight of his UFC bouts, but the Dagestan-born Russian missed two full years of competition before April 2016 due to a persistent knee injury.
Although Ferguson and Nurmagomedov traded angry insults throughout their promotion for UFC 209, Ferguson tweeted condolences at Nurmagomedov on Friday morning: "I Hope U Feel Better Khabib, I Pray For Your Recovery, I Mean It, Get Better."
Michael Johnson, a lightweight contender who lost to Nurmagomedov last November, said he had tentatively agreed on Friday to replace Nurmagomedov against Ferguson. Johnson then announced on Twitter that Ferguson had turned down the replacement fight, which would have been a rematch of Johnson's decision victory over Ferguson in May 2012.
"I was ready and willing!" Johnson wrote.
Ferguson considered a substitute opponent, but told Fox Sports 1 that the UFC wanted to cut his pay for the replacement bout, and it would not have been for an interim title. Ferguson acknowledged that he barely made weight himself, and he empathized with Nurmagomedov.
Ferguson, who weighed in on Friday morning at 154 1/2 pounds, took the stage in front of fans at the official weigh-in, encouraging them to buy the pay-per-view show despite his absence.
"I thought it was a nightmare, man," Ferguson said of his reaction to the bout's cancellation. "Something worse than El Cucuy. It was just something that he had to go through. This happens in the fight game."
The 33-year-old Ferguson has won nine straight fights since that loss to Johnson, and this matchup was the biggest showcase of his career. Ferguson alluded to Nurmagomedov's possible problems making weight during a faceoff between the fighters at media day on Thursday, with Ferguson telling Nurmagomedov to "have fun with that weight cut, sucking air."
The winner of the bout was likely to be among the top contenders for the next big-money fight with Conor McGregor, who won the regular UFC lightweight title last November with a victory over Eddie Alvarez. McGregor hasn't announced when he will fight next, and he could also meet longtime antagonist Nate Diaz or even Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a boxing match.
UFC 209 is headlined by Tyron Woodley's welterweight title rematch with Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson. The UFC promoted an undercard bout between strawweights Amanda Cooper and Cynthia Calvillo onto the pay-per-view portion of the show.