Finally the stage is once again set for Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov to meet in the octagon, this time for the UFC lightweight championship.
Conor McGregor’s name should not even be mentioned in the same sentence as Ferguson and Nurmagomedov until he proves he is capable of mounting a serious challenge for the lightweight belt. There are plenty of existing fights to make for McGregor in the stacked 155-pound division. The one that makes the most sense would be Justin Gaethje, who is coming off a big first-round win against Donald Cerone at fight night 158. A win against Gaethje would help him claim back some respect and start to make a legitimate claim for another title shot.
It is hard to see how a rematch with Nurmagomedov will go any differently than the pressure-based beatdown McGregor experienced a year ago at UFC 229.
In that time Tony Ferguson has been active and has added to his ever-growing 12-fight win streak against some of the sport’s toughest opponents. Among those 12 wins are six submission finishes. How can a fighter with a 12-fight win streak and a fight style suited to Nurmagomedov’s be overlooked for someone who was so soundly beaten by the champion on the last occasion? It makes no sporting sense.
A grappling-based fighter must be next for the dominant Nurmagomedov, who rag dolled a game Dustin Poirier before securing the rear naked choke finish in the third round at UFC 242. The Dagestani phenom has dominated striking-based fighters with ease. Not one of them has had an answer to his overwhelming and multi-faceted chain wrestling and impressive groundwork. Nurmagomedov has arguably the best grappling to ever grace the UFC octagon.
Ferguson is the type of fighter who can make it chaotic, make it ugly and give Nurmagomedov a decent threat on the ground. From his solid collegiate wrestling base the Eddie Bravo tenth planet jujitsu black belt has developed one of the most threatening and exciting submission games in the history of the lightweight division. Combined with his unpredictable, wild free-flowing striking and elite-level cardio, he may have the right mix to combat Nurmagomedov’s brutally efficient wrestling based onslaught.
UFC President Dana White conceded at the post-fight press conference that it should be Tony Ferguson next to fight to the unbeaten champion. However, he also hinted that he would have to do so on the UFC’s terms and seemed to leave the door open for McGregor.
“Tony Ferguson is next in line for the fight if he accepts the fight,” White said. “We’ll see how this thing plays out when Khabib will fight again and if Tony wants the fight.
“Tony Ferguson gets the next shot and obviously if for whatever reason Tony can’t take the fight or doesn’t want the fight at that time then we would figure out what was next but Conor would make a lot of sense.
“Conor McGregor wants that fight really badly and I’m sure the fans would want to see it.”
This seems to imply that the UFC won’t wait for Ferguson and will look to book the fight on White’s terms. The UFC must pay Ferguson what he is worth for this extremely important fight in the history of the lightweight division. They should wait until both Nurmagomedov and Ferguson are ready and should in no way consider McGregor until this fight is done and he proves his worth in the octagon rather than through Twitter outbursts.
Until Nurmogomedov finally defends against Ferguson, there will always be a caveat against his championship supremacy. Tony Ferguson held the interim lightweight championship during the recent turbulent times for the division. The division needs normalcy, and this is the only fight that can bring it.
The legitimacy of the UFC as a genuine sporting competition will again be called into question if McGregor is rewarding for his antics and is given a title shot as he has not earned it on merit.