Anthony Pettis knows what it’s like to climb the mixed martial arts mountaintop. He’s been world lightweight champion in both the UFC and the WEC.
So Pettis knows a fellow champion when he sees one, and as far as he’s concerned, Conor McGregor has a stronger claim as UFC lightweight champion than the recognized titleholder, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
McGregor’s victory over Eddie Alvarez two years ago, Pettis said Tuesday, gives him more valid championship credentials than Nurmagomedov’s UFC 223 win over Al Iaquinta.
“I think Conor’s win over Eddie solidifies him more as champion more than Khabib beating Al,” Ferguson said at a media event in Las Vegas on Tuesday promoting his fight with Tony Ferguson. “That’s just facts. The belt is where it is, they had to do it for the business, they had to move it forward, but if it was true to the game, Conor would be the champion.”
Of course, the issue will be settled Saturday at UFC 229, where McGregor, who was stripped of the lightweight belt due to inactivity, will square off with Nurmagomedov, who filled the title with his decision win over Iaquinta in April. And as Pettis sees this one, McGregor’s fearsome left hand is going to be too much for Nurmagomedov to handle.
“I think Conor wins,” Pettis matter-of-factly stated. “Knockout. I don’t know what round.”
Pressed for specifics, Pettis said that the striking game displayed by Nurmagomedov last time out might have been good enough to get the job done against Iaquinta, but it will be a different story come Saturday.
“We’ve all seen his striking game,” Pettis said. “We saw him in his last fight against Al and how he performed. If he comes like that against Conor? I mean, that’s the wrong guy to do it against I’m sure he’s motivated, I’m sure Conor’s motivated. But I’m picking Conor.”
Pettis, likewise, doesn’t seem overly impressed with the undefeated Nurmagomedov’s UFC lightweight record 10 straight wins.
“Who’s he fought?” Pettis asked. “Who did Khabib win the belt against? He didn’t win the belt against the champion. We’re in a weird spot. He didn’t win the belt against a real champion. You look at the last 10 fights, there’s some good wins, some great wins. But he hasn’t fought the best in the division.”
Pettis nearly had his chance to fight Nurmagomedov at UFC 223, as his name was one of several mentioned for the last-minute slot filled by Iaquinta. Since that didn’t happen, he figures the next-best thing will be to go out and make a statement against Ferguson.
“I think my performance will send a message,” Pettis said. “I think that fight is a great fight. I mean, Khabib is undefeated, i almost had the chance to fight him in Brooklyn, that didn’t happen. I think the media pushed that harder than it was, I didn’t really have a guarantee that I was fighting Khabib. I was almost there, I got excited, now I’m here, I’m fighting Tony, the main event is a great fight, Conor vs. Khabib, they’re both good.”