Tony Ferguson may be on the mend, but he also believes he is still the rightful UFC lightweight champion of the world.
Ferguson was supposed to have fought Khabib Nurmagomedov for the right to be recognized as the undisputed UFC lightweight champion at UFC 223 in Brooklyn on April 7. Just days before the event, while fulfilling his company mandated rounds with the media, Ferguson tripped on a cable and injured his knee.
The injury forced him out of the fight and into the hospital.
With him out of the fight, the UFC eventually settled on Nurmagomedov facing Al Iaquinta for the belt. The Russian fighter mauled Iaquinta and claimed the undisputed lightweight title.
Ferguson had been the interim lightweight champion prior to UFC 223, but company president Dana White later said that his belt “goes away” because Nurmagomedov vs. Iaquinta was for the undisputed title.
That doesn’t sit well with Ferguson.
“The UFC has indicated my title is gone and Khabib is the only champion at 155 pounds, but the UFC hasn’t mentioned anything official to my management,” Ferguson told ESPN this week. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m still the true 155-pound champion. I never lost my belt.”
Though there has been little reference to Ferguson’s interim belt since UFC 223, White hasn’t backtracked on his earlier statement either.
“That’s a big middle finger to ‘T-Ferg’ right there — that’s a kick to the groin if they do that,” Ferguson added. “At the end of the day, does the UFC really like its fighters? I’m one of their toughest fighters. Don’t kick me when I’m down.
“I missed out on pay-per-view points, my purse, a big payday; a lot of things behind the scenes. They have to either give me my title back or make sure I’m fighting under that same contract. I’ve earned that.”
What type of contract Ferguson will fight under, as well as whom he will fight, remains to be seen.
Ferguson indicated that doctors expect him to be sidelined anywhere from three to six months with the type of surgery he had. Considering himself a quick healer, Ferguson expects to return to the Octagon sometime around November, and his target is, of course, a fight with Nurmagomedov, a match-up that has now been derailed on four separate occasions.
“Whenever Khabib’s b—- ass comes back, that’s when I’ll be back. I’m thinking November,” Ferguson told ESPN.
There is an interesting scenario that could unfold this fall, as Conor McGregor, who was stripped of the title prior to UFC 223 and is currently mired in legal issues stemming from his bazaar attack on a van full of fighters (which included Nurmagomedov) at the UFC 223 Media Day, could be set to return as well. That leaves the UFC brass with a decision to make: Khabib vs. McGregor or Khabib vs. Ferguson.
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Also factor into the equation that Ferguson and McGregor share the same manager, who was also vocal about the potential loss of Ferguson’s belt and with it, a loss of significant revenue.
“Our position is Tony is still the champion and therefore required to defend that belt,” Audie Attar told ESPN. “And further, is contractually entitled to be compensated as the champion for his next fight and all fights thereafter until someone defeats him. We trust this situation will be handled professionally.”
Khabib vs. McGregor is arguably the bigger fight, but if the UFC heads in that direction, where does that leave Ferguson, who is already displeased with the direction things have headed.
“I think the UFC is going to do what they want to do, like any other time. But it’s disrespectful to me to strip my title,” said Ferguson. “I should still be the interim champion. In fact, I should be the champion and Khabib should be the interim champion.”