Image via Instagram/khabib_nurmagomedov
Unbeaten UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, a fellow competitor at the 155lbs weight limit who enjoys a nine-fight win streak, may be fighting each other after all.
As he often does, UFC president Dana White threw multiple red herrings to the MMA media in attendance of his press scrum ahead of UFC 207 at the end of 2016—saying he tried putting together a fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson for the interim lightweight title in the absence of the division’s champion Conor McGregor, who is taking time off as his girlfriend expects their first child together.
“We were trying to make that fight. Tony said he will not do that fight unless he makes the same exact money that Khabib makes. Khabib has a different deal so that ain’t happening. Count that one out,” said White. With Ferguson and the UFC failing to reach an agreement on the fight’s financials, the fight appeared dead in the water.
Nurmagomedov wants Ferguson as his next opponent with McGregor seemingly leaving another UFC division in limbo—so much so, he said he will pay Ferguson $200,000 out of his own pocket so the pair’s purse match each other’s. Unsurprisingly, a prideful Ferguson refused the offer.
Though no name has been announced to take on Nurmagomedov as yet, the Dagestan native has started a training camp to fight on an upcoming UFC pay-per-view show. Meanwhile, Top 10-ranked lightweight Michael Chiesa has been mooted as a possible opponent, with Chiesa stating he’s more than up for the challenge, but there’s no doubting Ferguson is the man Nurmagomedov wants in the absence of the champion. “I want to beat Tony Ferguson, take the interim bullshit belt, and I will fight with Conor for real belt,” Nurmagomedov recently told MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani on his show, The MMA Hour.
The timing of Nurmagomedov’s Instagram post is interesting, given Ferguson tweeted the above just over 24 hours prior. With such social media posts, it’s easy to put two and two together and come up with an answer of five. But, Nurmagomedov’s father has given fan theories of a fight being signed between the pair a lot more credence.
Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov—Khabib’s father, lifetime combat sambo coach and personal advisor—responded to one Instagram user who replied to his son’s picture—essentially confirming the bout with Ferguson has been signed and as BloodyElbow’s Karim Zidan, a Russian MMA expert, alluded to, Nurmagomedov Sr. is rarely off the mark.
Seemingly a constant in the UFC lightweight title picture, the duo of Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have somehow avoided fighting each other up until now—and not through a lack of trying.
The pair was originally scheduled to face one another on December 11, 2015, at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale. However, following a spate of knee injuries incurred during training, Nurmagomedov was forced to pull out of the contest and was replaced by Brazilian striking specialist Edson Barboza. In a fantastic back-and-forth fight, Ferguson emerged the victor of that contest with a beautifully-applied d’arce choke submission in the second round. Ferguson earned both Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night honours in this contest.
There was a second attempt at scheduling the fight—this time for UFC on Fox 19 on April 16, 2016. But, this time round, Ferguson couldn’t make the fight after suffering a lung issue. Instead, Nurmagomedov fought promotional newcomer Darrell Horcher at a 160lbs catchweight and dominated the contest to earn a second round TKO win against his grossly-outmatched opponent.
This match-up of strong personalities may have not fought before. But, there is most certainly some ill-will between both men with the pair trading insults ahead of their two scheduled contests and beyond.
With the UFC’s first forays into PPV of 2017 looking threadbare and no title fights scheduled other than the odd contest between Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie at UFC 208 in Brooklyn, New York, Nurmagomedov versus Ferguson is the most hotly-anticipated the UFC can make at present. Let’s hope UFC 209 will be the lucky event to showcase two of the world’s most dynamic lightweight competitors.