Helwani on UFC 249 fighters — other than Khabib and Tony — coping with uncertainty


The main question on MMA fans’ minds these days — hopefully other than, “How do I avoid getting sick and not lose my mind at home?” — is whether the highly anticipated Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson fight is going to happen on April 18.

Dana White continues to be convinced that it will. Heck, he told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto on Monday that he already has the location.

With that statement comes a lot of follow-up questions: Where is the location? How are the fighters training during lockdowns around the country and world? How are their diets? How will they get to this location? Who will be able to come with them? On and on it goes.

What about the rest of the fighters scheduled to compete at UFC 249? No one seems to be talking about them.

Trust me, those fighters are looking forward to competing just as much as Nurmagomedov and Ferguson. And chances are, given their spots on the totem pole, they need the money way more.

I recently asked a few of them — or their managers — about their status.

The main response was that no one seems to know where this card is happening and whether they are going to remain on it.

However, many did say that the UFC has begun to reach out about passport info, medicals, corner applications and clothing sizes for cornermen — for the kits. This is the standard operating procedure before every fight, so it appears that it’s business as usual at Zuffa HQ.

Wild times, right?

According to her manager, Tiago Okamura, Jessica Andrade, who is scheduled to fight Rose Namajunas in the co-main event, is training at her home gym. She has a training partner living with her, and they do remote training sessions with her head coach.

As for Namajunas, her team says she is trying to train as much as she can, but it’s proving to be very hard.

Both fighters have yet to be told whether their fight will happen, according to their teams.

How about Ion Cutelaba? Remember that wild fight he had last month against Magomed Ankalaev? They are supposed to have a rematch at UFC 249. Cutelaba lives and trains out of his home country, Moldova. Cutelaba told me that he learned Tuesday, March 17, that the airport was being shut down, so he packed his bags that Monday to fly to Vegas to finish his camp at the UFC Performance Institute. The problem was the PI closed before he got there.

More on him in a bit. He, too, doesn’t know if his fight will happen.

Alex Hernandez is to meet Islam Makhachev on the main card. Hernandez said San Antonio, where he lives and trains, is on lockdown, so he can’t train much these days but is holding out hope that the UFC will find a way to keep his fight on. He has considered the park for his workouts.

Hernandez also doesn’t know if his fight is going to happen.

Calvin Kattar has a big fight against Jeremy Stephens.

“Heard nothing more than you would’ve heard,” Kattar told me. “I’m trying to keep up with what’s out there while not really [paying] much attention to it as much as possible, if that makes any sense at all.”

Yes, Calvin, it does. I, too, have stopped watching the news. I don’t find it mentally healthy.

“Just doing my part to stay ready in the meantime, wherever I can,” Kattar said.

Stephens, by the way, is managed by Ferguson’s management, Ballengee Group. One would think he and his team are a tad more up to speed on things, but they too don’t know where this card is going to happen or what fights will be on, I’m told.

Ben Rothwell meets Gian Villante on the prelims. Rothwell is making due as well.

“I have a 700-square-foot strength and conditioning gym at my house and a closed MMA gym I can use whenever I want now,” he said.

“Most of all of my training is private. I spar with one heavyweight, grapple with one black belt. Everything else is done that way, too, so honestly, I’m very grateful to be set up and keep things normal — in a very not normal time.”

Rothwell shares management with Lyman Good. They are both proceeding, according to their manager, Abraham Kawa, as if their respective fights are on, but they don’t have any details. They hope to find out this week.

Villante recently became a father for the first time. He lives on Long Island, New York, in one of the worst states for this pandemic right now.

“I can’t train, and if I could, I don’t want to put my family at risk,” he said. “I haven’t left my house in five days. It’s too scary to put myself or ask others, like my trainer or training partners, to put them at risk.

“All I’ve been told is it’s still on.”

Oh, and in case you heard Daniel Cormier‘s wild idea to pick up all the fighters on his imaginary private plane — with the caveat that New Yorkers Villante and Sijara Eubanks have to carpool to Florida to jump on the plane — Eubanks wrote on my Instagram, “This is a great idea, man. I’m driving to Florida. Let’s go.”

To recap, most are staying positive, but none of them knows what is happening.

Most have been told, through one means or another, to stay ready and keep training, but considering the circumstances, with the lack of training partners and not knowing where the fights will happen, I’d imagine each and every uncertain day is a struggle.

Also, if they hold this event overseas, which appears to be likely right now, one would think there’s a chance that they populate the card with local fighters, right? That wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

In any event, UFC 249 is less than a month away. I know everyone is excited to see Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson, but don’t forget about the other men and women, OK?

By any means necessary

Back to Cutelaba. His story is pretty unique, so I did a Q&A with him on Tuesday.

Here’s what he had to say:

When did you find out that you had to leave Moldova?

I found out I should leave Moldova on Monday, March 16. There was a decree to have all airports in Moldova closed the next day, with no date set for them to be open. In order to not lose my fight, I got on a plane that Monday to the U.S.

Did you leave alone?

Yes, I came by myself. I couldn’t risk my family’s health during the quarantine.

How did you feel about leaving your family, not knowing when you could return?

Well, I was sad, but my family always encouraged me to do my best for this job, and at that moment, there was only one way to guarantee I could make it to my fight, and that was to fly out that day.

How did you feel when you got to Vegas and they told you the PI was closed?

The PI and the UFC offices were closed the day I arrived in Vegas, so I didn’t have a chance to go and see the Institute. But luckily, my team and I were able to find other ways of training and getting me ready for the fight while in Vegas.

Why don’t you just go back home?

Nothing can stop me. I’m so motivated to win this fight! I was done wrong in my last bout. I am still fighting that result. But this is my chance to take the result by my own hands. I will get that win no matter what.

What has the UFC told you about the status of the fight?

So far we have not had any official news about the bout. So all we can do is keep preparing for when they finally decide where we will be fighting.

Are you willing to travel anywhere for this fight?

Yes, even on the moon!

Where are you staying now? How are you preparing for the fight?

I’m still in Vegas, and my training camp is going well everywhere. Things are a bit different than usual, but even in these tough times, we have been able to find good people to train with and make sure I am at 100 percent when fight time comes.

Do you think the fight will happen?

Yes, of course.

Is it hard to train knowing it’s so up in the air?

No because I trust Dana White.

Random thoughts

Any time I am feeling down, I go to Darren Till‘s Instagram. The man can do no wrong over there these days. I suggest doing the same. He’s hilarious. … I saw the news that Aljamain Sterling is scheduled to fight Cory Sandhagen on May 16. That’s a tremendous fight that makes a lot of sense, but can we put a moratorium on these news items until normalcy resumes? We’ll be very lucky if that card happens on that date. … Shout-out to Team Canada for being the first country to say it would not send athletes to the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Of course, the games have now officially been postponed, but I was proud to see my home country do that first. … It was very fun to see WrestleMania 30 on ESPN on Sunday. I could get used to that. By the way, former UFC fighter/women’s MMA pioneer Shayna Baszler has a big match on the WrestleMania card this year against Becky Lynch. She has turned into a tremendous pro wrestler, which is great to see. …. More WrestleMania on ESPN to come this Sunday, too. … Cormier told me on Monday’s episode of DC & Helwani that Brian Stann once told him he was knocked out six(!) times during his 2013 brawl against Wanderlei Silva. That’s absurd. I need to go back and watch that fight, and I suggest you do as well.

Hope everyone is staying safe and healthy out there. Be smart. We will get through this.

Until next time.

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