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More questions about cutting weight raised after Khabib Nurmagomedov pulls out of UFC 209

Khabib Nurmagomedov, in an episode that raises more questions about his reliability and the rigors of cutting weight, fell ill trying to make 155 pounds, forcing the scrapping of his anticipated UFC 209 interim lightweight title fight Saturday against Tony Ferguson.

Russia’s Nurmagomedov (24-0) was seeking to stop the nine-fight winning streak of Costa Mesa’s Ferguson (23-3), with the winner first in line to face lightweight champion Conor McGregor, on hiatus awaiting the birth of his first child.

Instead, after moving past prior knee injuries and a rib injury that previously scrapped a fight with Ferguson, the weight-cut illness delays Nurmagomedov’s bid to fight for just a fifth time since September 2013.

“It’s obviously a huge blow,” UFC President Dana White said. “We have to get through [Saturday’s card], and then I’ll figure out to do with those guys.”

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The UFC 209 main event, a rematch at T-Mobile Arena between welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (16-3-1) and top-rated contender Stephen Thompson (13-1-1), remains on as Woodley weighed in at the 170-pound limit and Thompson was at 169 pounds.

The pair fought to a majority draw in November at Madison Square Garden. Thompson is a slight favorite in the rematch.

Many viewed Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson, however, as the most compelling fight the UFC has staged this year given Ferguson’s versatility and Nurmagomedov’s dominance in his November victory over Michael Johnson and his rising worldwide profile. In Russia, a national television network was due to broadcast his fight live for the first time.

Just as the Friday morning deadline for Nurmagomedov to make weight expired, the UFC issued a prepared statement revealing, “ … Nurmagomedov was transported to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center [in Las Vegas] Thursday evening due to weight management medical issues. He was treated and has been discharged. The scheduled … bout … has been canceled on the doctor’s recommendation.”

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The UFC has former BALCO investigator Jeff Novitzky as its vice president of athlete health and performance to help steer fighters from supplements and substances banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

While doping has long been considered the sport’s most serious problem, pushing bodies to the breaking point in weight cuts again appears to be a subject ripe for renewed review.

Novitzky has tried to solve some issues by instituting morning weigh-ins to limit the sometimes painful process of maintaining weight all day, and he closely monitors the fighters’ weight-cutting process especially during fight week.

A search for an effective system to establish standards based on a fighter’s so-called “walking-around weight” that could be used to prohibit excessive weight drops remains an elusive pursuit.

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Nurmagomedov told reporters Thursday at UFC media day that he expected the weight cut to be difficult, but achievable.

Former lightweight title challenger Nate Diaz, the popular Stockton fighter who was surprisingly — and now regrettably — left off the UFC 209 card despite his pride in his hometown’s “209” area code, said cutting weight is “basically, you’re getting yourself as close to dying as possible.”

Diaz, speaking in support of cannabis at a Las Vegas marijuana dispensary as the UFC 209 public weigh-in was happening, said “one part of the paycheck should be for making the weight, because you go through a lot.”

Ferguson weighed in just under the 155-pound lightweight limit earlier Friday morning at 154.5 pounds. He was a less than 2 to 1 underdog against Nurmagomedov.

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Ferguson tweeted Friday, “@TeamKhabib, I hope you feel better Khabib, I Pray for Your Recovery, I Mean It, Get Better … .”

While Nurmagomedov has claimed the charismatic McGregor (21-3) is seeking to avoid him, McGregor’s past criticism of the Russian as an unreliable participant capable of wasting preparation and purse money gained more validity with Friday’s news.

There were reports former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez was willing to board a flight and fight Ferguson, and McGregor and Diaz are in town. But none of those options for a Ferguson substitute bout were considered serious.

Meanwhile, Woodley and Thompson renew acquaintances.

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Thompson, a disciplined karate-skilled fighter, vows to answer the danger of Woodley’s power punching and strength with activity that was lacking in his tentative first showing.

“Keeping my reach, my kicks, that’s how I win,” Thompson said. “Last fight, I was hesitant. Was it because it was the big UFC event in New York? My first title fight? I don’t know. But that gives me confidence. My mind’s right, I’m full of confidence …go out there and let it all out.”

The bout will have some interested viewers in the arena, including McGregor, Diaz and former long-reigning welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who’s ending a hiatus to fight middleweight champion Michael Bisping later this year.

UFC President Dana White said St-Pierre, who last fought in 2013, told him he’s interested in the biggest fights possible at any weight from lightweight (155 pounds) to middleweight (185).

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire


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