The fallout from UFC 249 is only just beginning to manifest, and it's clear the two fighters in the main event will be able to point back to the early May fight as a career-defining moment.
On the one hand, interim lightweight champ Justin Gaethje can seemingly pick his next opponent and has spurned advances from Conor McGregor to bait him into the Octagon. If that weren't enough, Gaethje already detailed to ESPN's Brett Okamoto how he'll take down undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov whenever the two link up.
“If my legs are in shape I don’t get tired,” Gaethje said. “If I don’t get tired I can get back up. If I can get back up, I can hit him like a truck. I only gotta kick him eight times in the calves before he’s compromised. There’s lot of factors. I’m gonna work on being me, stay in shape. It’s all cardio.”
Regardless of who he faces next, Gaethje said he'll spend all of his time before then running, jumping rope and doing squats to make sure his stamina doesn't suffer from the layoff.
That said, it's Nurmagomedov who Gaethje is intensely focused on facing next.
When McGregor stated that he was next to take on Gaethje, the champ told Okamoto UFC President Dana White laughed in response.
"You don't get to fight me next, unless there are crazy circumstances, where Khabib cannot fight," Gaethje said of McGregor. "Then we'll fight. That's the only way. Other than that, you don't get a say...You're still worth all the money in the game, that's true. But you're losing clout when it comes to inside the game."
The other half of UFC 249's main event, Tony Ferguson, is in a much different place.
After suffering a fifth-round TKO at the hands of Gaethje, those close to Ferguson believe he's more likely to step away completely from the Octagon than step back in too soon.
“I think at this point, Tony needs a mental break from this sport,” Ferguson's boxing coach, Rashad Holloway, told MMA reporter Helen Yee. “Just to be normal, not deal with all the politics and the headaches of it, the physical part of it."
It's been a taxing few months for Ferguson. After preparing to originally take on Nurmagomedov at UFC 249, the 36-year-old had to make a quick pivot to prepare for Gaethje as the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for the Russian fighter to travel to the United States.
Things only got more complicated as the fight was forced to find a new location before ultimately being postponed until May, a nearly three-week delay.
“I think after a couple of months of resting, no working out, we can go to the gym and have some fun. Just have some fun working out," Holloway said. "Just have fun, not really prep for a fight but just have fun and take a break and fall in love with the sport all over again. It’s a lot of pressure when you’re undefeated for so long and you’re looked at as the marquee guy. Now it’s like the weight’s off his shoulders and he can be normal again.”
Ferguson isn't the only one with an unclear future.
White is currently mapping out plans for UFC's next event with little set in stone. After UFC Fight Night 176 on Saturday, White said he's hoping for a May 30 card to take place in Las Vegas, with Arizona serving as a fallback option.