When the announcement was finally made at 2pm EST it fell like cold inevitability. After all the buildup and all the hype ("the greatest lightweight fight in history") and all the disappointment MMA fans have gotten used to and all the fights Khabib Nurmagomedov has had to pull out of due to injuries over the years and all the previous fights between him and Tony Ferguson that had been scrapped, it seemed like a fantasy that the two men would ever actually fight, not even as yesterday turned into today and it seemed like the impossible was finally going to happen. For whatever reason the gods have seen fit to curse Nurmagomedov and, by association, Ferguson, and, by looser association, us. So when that official from the UFC turned to the crowd of journalists assembled in the basement of the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas at 11am local time and said that the co-main event of this weekend's UFC 209 had officially been cancelled due to undisclosed medical problems the whole thing felt tragic but destined. We could be heartbroken but we couldn't be surprised.
The drama began early this morning, when, according to Russian media sources who had spoken with Nurmagomedov's father and trainer, Nurmagomedov was rushed to a hospital at 5:30am local time with undisclosed medical problems, just hours before he was set to weigh in. Rumors started circulating that the fight was in danger of being called off. After Nurmagomedov failed to show up at the weigh-ins at his allotted time and Ferguson made weight, those rumors grew louder. The Dagestani fighter's manager had declined to comment on his fighter's condition, one reporter said. Meanwhile, the weigh-ins went on, even as the Nurmagomedov-shaped cloud hanging over them grew bigger and blacker.
One by one the fighters on tomorrow night's card jumped on the scale until there were only five left: heavyweight Alistair Overeem, who makes a habit out of being late to weigh-ins; women's strawweight Amanda Cooper; bantamweight Yuri Alcantara; bantamweight Andre Soukhamthath; and, of course, Nurmagomedov. For an hour the media waited for their arrival as the clocked ticked down. Under the rules of the Nevada Athletic Commission any fighter who didn't make weight by 11am local time would be off the card.
And still the rumors flew. MMAFighting "confirmed" that Khabib's problems were related to his weight cut. Another source claimed they weren't. One source said the fighter was still at the hospital in Las Vegas. Another said he wasn't in the hospital at all but back in his hotel, though still ill. Several said he was feeling fine but he was now on an IV drip, which would mean he'd be eligible to fight but not eligible to claim the interim lightweight title if he won. Reports kept coming in from "unnamed Russian sources," as if it were Jeff Sessions and not Khabib Nurmagomedov we were all waiting to see strip down and step on the scale.
And all the while we kept watching the white door in that basement room, waiting to see it swing open and Nurmagomedov running through, furry Dagestani hat on head.
With 40 minutes left to go before the deadline we were told we could expect an announcement from the UFC at any time. Two minutes later Overeem appeared and made weight easily. He was smiling and friendly with the gathered press, and the fact that he made it to the event on time was a small piece of news, but it was only a distraction and not one likely to work for long.
And then there were four.
At the 30-minute mark, MMAFighting "confirmed" that Nurmagomedov's involvement tomorrow was "in doubt." Ten minutes after that Amanda Cooper and Andre Soukhamthath appeared, completely drained of liquids, each of them looking from the side like a perfectly two-dimensional surface. Cooper made weight and jokingly asked for compliments on her depleted body. Soukhamthath cleared as well. Their misery and delight, though everything in the world to them, was just a sideshow to everyone else.
And then there were two.
With 15 minutes left we were told once again that we could expect an announcement from the UFC at any moment. With six minutes to go Yuri Alcantara appeared at last and made weight after stripping naked behind a towel. He was overjoyed but everyone was looking past him to the white door.
And then there was one.
It seemed impossible now. If Nurgmagomedov were coming he would have been here by now. He couldn't possibly make it. And sure enough, one minute before the 11am deadline, an official from the UFC rose from her seat by the white door and told the MMA world the last thing it wanted to hear: that Nurmagomedov had been transported to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center the night before due to weight-management issues; that he had been treated there and discharged; that on the doctor's recommendation Khabib's fight with Tony Ferguson had once again been cancelled—the third time no more charming than the others. Once more the MMA gods had gotten the last laugh, she said, punishing us for our faith and our hope and our ridiculous optimism. There would be no need to watch the door anymore.
And then there were none.