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Khabib Nurmagomedov-Tony Ferguson bout is set for April 7; Conor McGregor faces his own deadline

Khabib Nurmagomedov-Tony Ferguson bout is set for April 7; Conor McGregor faces his own deadline
Conor McGregor hasn't taken part in a UFC fight since his November 2016 bout against Eddie Alvarez. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson have a fight date for a fourth time. Injuries and a problematic weight cut scrapped the previous collisions.

Now they have April 7 at Brooklyn's Barclays Center reserved to finally settle their pent-up rivalry, with the UFC's lightweight belt on the line.

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For now, the belt is the interim version that Ferguson won in October by stopping Kevin Lee, but UFC President Dana White has expressed growing impatience with full champion Conor McGregor's readiness to return to the octagon.

And if those conversations take a turn in which McGregor balks at fighting the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson winner in the early summer, White could strip the belt before April 7.

White said he's heard speculation that McGregor might not be ready to return to a UFC fight in September after earning more than $100 million for his August novelty boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr.

"That's almost two years," since McGregor's November 2016 stoppage of Eddie Alvarez in his most recent UFC fight. "That can't happen. It's not fair to everybody else. … The belt would have to move on," White told Fox on Sunday night. "You do Khabib and Tony. … If and when Conor comes back, he would get the first crack."

The anticipation for Nurmagomedov (25-0) and Ferguson (23-3) to meet in the main event of UFC 223, meanwhile, has amplified into a frenzy, given how dominant the Russian Nurmagomedov was on Dec. 30 in defeating No. 4-rated lightweight Edson Barboza by unanimous decision.

In Brooklyn, Nurmagomedov will be the crowd favorite. In February, he spoke at a public event in Brighton Beach, N.Y., that drew a swell of fans from the area's vibrant Russian community.

Costa Mesa's highly skilled Ferguson has won 10 consecutive fights, relying on an old-school regimen that includes carrying boulders on treks through Big Bear.

Nurmagomedov fell ill and was hospitalized while cutting weight before a scheduled meeting with Ferguson in March, scrapping that bout.

The fighters will make their first public comments on the bout Friday at a news conference in Boston preceding Saturday's UFC 220 card headlined by heavyweight Stipe Miocic's title defense against No. 1 contender Francis Ngannou.

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