In any normal scenario, the next fight for Conor McGregor would be an obvious choice. McGregor, the reigning UFC lightweight champion, would unify his title against Tony Ferguson, the longtime contender who extended his winning streak to 10 straight by capturing the interim 155-pound belt with a thunderous victory over Kevin Lee at UFC 216.
UFC president Dana White even threw his weight behind the matchup at Saturday night’s post-fight press conference, saying that McGregor vs. Ferguson is “the fight that has to happen.” But precedent often gets thrown out the window when it comes to McGregor, the Irishman who has risen to become the biggest star in the history of the sport, and at this point, there’s no question McGregor plays by a different set of rules than any UFC champion before him.
So with rumors of a possible big-money trilogy fight between “The Notorious” and Nate Diaz being floated as an option for McGregor’s impending return to the UFC, is McGregor vs. Ferguson actually going to happen?
“I believe so,” Ferguson said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I mean, if Dana says it, then we’re going to hold it to him. The UFC is pretty good with that, right? They don’t want to be called liars, and I don’t want to make them a liar, so this sh*t needs to happen.
“Look, Conor watches the fights. This dude didn’t say sh*t. He didn’t say sh*t on Twitter. He didn’t even comment saying ‘good fight.’ He said he was looking forward to watching this fight — he hasn’t said nothing. The boy is scared. He’s running. I told him, just set the belt down and walk away and nobody will get hurt. That’s all you’ve got to do: just set it down and you won’t get ass kicked, I swear, by another Mexican. This is a tough fight for him, man, and I don’t think that he’s got enough cornermen in the world to try to help him on this one.”
Ferguson referenced comments McGregor made during the lead-up to UFC 216, in which the Irishman said he was “very interested” to see how Ferguson vs. Lee played out and that it excited him to go in and “correct that whole situation” by legitimizing the UFC lightweight title.
Two days after UFC 216, Ferguson was right in pointing out that McGregor hadn’t said anything on social media about Ferguson’s performance or the interim 155-pound title since the event — and that was telling enough for “El Cucuy”
“I’ve given reasons before, as far as management telling him not to, or he’s just afraid or he’s not afraid, or if he’s just trying to get under my skin. It doesn’t matter,” Ferguson said. “I’ve wrestled them all, I’ve fought them all, and Conor is not different than any other man or human being in this world. The man wants to call himself a god, but he bleeds, so I can expose him as well. I guarantee you, there’s no big animosity there, but the callout was real and it was genuine.
“I really want to kick this dude’s ass because I believe that my skills are better. I guarantee you that I’d be a better champ and I would defend the belt. He defends the belt zero times. Zero times. He won it, he talked his way into this sh*t, and my management knows exactly where I stand with this, and I don’t stand for that kind of sh*t. I’m here right now putting numbers behind it, the same way that I made them take me into The Ultimate Fighter.”
One noteworthy wrinkle that factors in the situation is that McGregor and Ferguson are both led by the same management group, Paradigm Sports Management. That could lead to tricky waters if Diaz ends up getting the McGregor fight rather than Ferguson, considering that Diaz hasn’t fought since Aug. 2016 and is only 2-2 over the last four years. But Ferguson is confident that his management team will look out for his best interests as the process gets underway.
“We’re all professional here, and that’s how I’m going to take it,” Ferguson said. “I’m going to be professional with it. I think I’ve grown with my management, they’ve grown with me. I signed with them before McGregor did, but it’s not like I came here first (to the title) — I came here second.
“Protect your pocket, I guess. But in the reality of everything, you have a conscious, and it’s going to be on theirs, and it’s not going to be on mine because I’ve been earning this the whole entire way. So it’s going to have to be on them. Like I said, I don’t want to try to look for different management. I love my guys, and I actually like them now, so in due time we’ll find out, man. Straight up. Because Dana says it needs to happen, it needs to happen.
“Conor needs his ass kicked and we need to unify that belt. Otherwise he needs to vacate, set it down, walk away, and never f*cking come back. Because if you go to 170, if you go to 185, or even if you drop to 145, I will f*cking follow you, Conor, and I will haunt your f*cking dreams, kid, and I will come after you. And one day, no matter whether we have the same management or not, you will f*cking see me again. And I will put some pain on you, bro.”
That being said, Ferguson made it clear that he doesn’t believe those close to McGregor want any part of what Ferguson brings to the table.
“I haven’t been told anything, but I can read people and I can tell that they don’t want this fight to happen,” Ferguson said. “They don’t. They want to protect their pocket. Just everybody, they just don’t want it to happen. They don’t want Conor to lose. This guy’s got a lot to lose. He’s got everything on the plate and all I have is everything to gain. And everybody’s going to do what they have to do, but at the end, everybody’s going to have a great fight. What they’re going to get is fireworks.”
Despite competing just days before, Ferguson said he was already ready to jump back into another fight camp. He said he was uninjured from the Lee fight and indicated that he’s willing to return for the UFC’s year-end show on Dec. 30 at UFC 219.
White on Saturday claimed that McGregor was also eyeing a fight before the year was over, so while Ferguson doesn’t quite believe the UFC president, that sounds like a good enough plan for him.
“I think Conor’s full of sh*t, I don’t think he’s going to fight this year,” Ferguson said. “I think he was just saying it to keep people on their toes. But if he wants to go in 2017, I’m down. I’m ready to start training next week. We’ve got a 12-week training camp, we can get this sh*t rolling. The doctors already know that I’m not injured.
“I took a couple a shots (against Lee), but sometimes you’ve got to take one to give two, and with Conor, I don’t want to get hit. It’ll be a completely different training camp, and he’s not ready, man. He can have as many trainers in the world trying to help him with this one, but I’m a Pandora’s Box, man, and he doesn’t know how to open this sh*t.”