LAS VEGAS — The last time Tony Ferguson was in this spot, it was early March, and his interim UFC lightweight title tilt against Khabib Nurmagomedov was all anybody could talk about as Ferguson performed for the fans inside the T-Mobile Arena at UFC 209 open workouts.
That fight, of course, never actually came to fruition. A disasterous weight cut hospitalized Nurmagomedov and forced the Russian to withdraw from the event on the day of weigh-ins. But now Ferguson is back here again, set to vie for the interim strap all over again against a new opponent, Kevin Lee. And while Lee has never missed weight in the UFC, the 25-year-old contender appears to have a precipitous climb ahead of him less than 24 hours away from UFC 216’s official weigh-ins.
“I feel like a million bucks, still full of a lot of energy. I’ve got a big weight cut ahead of me, so that’s where the focus is right now,” Lee said Thursday at open workouts.
“Right now I’m about ’74, something like that. I have a decent little cut. It ain’t going to be nothing different. I’ve cut from a lot higher than that.”
Taking him at his word, that would mean Lee has 19 pounds left to cut to reach the 155-pound championship mark required of him for the fight, or just under 11 percent of his current body weight. If Lee were fighting in California, the athletic commission there would probably take a long, hard look at recommending him to move up to welterweight, per its new rules.
But while Lee admitted that his Thursday night wasn’t going to be a fun one, he brushed off any concern fight fans should have — and also took a shot at Nurmagomedov in the process.
“It’s going to be smooth,” Lee said. “I carry a lot of muscle, so it’s a lot easier for me to cut the water, and I’m just not a b*tch about it. I had tiramisu last night. So, look, look, the sh*t gonna hurt when it gets down to the last (few pounds), when it gets down to the end, but I’m gonna man up about it, especially when you’re talking 20 percent (of my purse). There’s a lot of things I’d do for 40 or 50 g’s, I’ll tell you that right now.”
Nurmagomedov infamously was filmed on UFC 209 Embedded while out to dinner with his team when one of his teammates ordered tiramisu. After his dropout, Nurmagomedov denied eating the tiramisu, however that didn’t stop Ferguson from taking the tiramisu gag and running with it. Even today, it remains a jab Ferguson often uses to prod Nurmagomedov in interviews and on social media.
As for Lee, his coach Robert Follis echoed Lee’s lack of concern for the 19-pound weight cut that awaits the lightweight contender.
“We’ve done this every camp,” Follis said. “He’s a huge dude. And I would venture to say Tony’s probably not a lot smaller at this point. You’re talking about the big, big guys in this division and they all have tough weight cuts, and until we make a change in the rules, that’s going to be what it is. Until they add some weight classes or change how the weight cuts go, if you want to be a dominant force, you’re going to be pushing that envelope. But we’ve never missed weight and I don’t expect it to be a problem in this one either.”
Follis said he wasn’t sure if Lee was kidding about the tiramisu, but jokingly added that if it was true, Lee probably had a “double” serving. Lee, meanwhile, declined to clarify one way or another.
“I just enjoy tiramisu,” Lee said. “I ain’t no b*tch. If you’re out there and tiramisu is the reason why you don’t go out there and make a lot of money and put your life on the line for these folks — and I ain’t got 4,000 Russians that are showing up for me, so that’s up to him (Nurmagomedov). He knows.”
While the whole conversation was likely much ado about nothing, it’s hard to feel confident about any fight week concern these days in MMA. Just take one look at UFC 216’s co-main event, Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg, a fight that was scratched from UFC 215 just days before the event because of an illness that sidelined Borg.
Still, for what it’s worth, Ferguson seemed unworried that history would repeat itself in his second crack at the interim lightweight title. And when told about Lee’s comments, Ferguson’s response was blunt.
“That’s cute,” he said.