Somewhere between the excitement of UFC 205 and the drama surrounding Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson became the forgotten man of the lightweight division.
Just one week before Conor McGregor's theatrics in New York, Ferguson capped off a record-breaking nine-fight win streak at lightweight with the most impressive victory of his UFC career, a five-round route over former champion Rafael dos Anjos. Ferguson sunk back into the shadows afterward while the fight world turned its gaze to the Irishman. But now that UFC 205 is over and the 155-pound division is wide open with options, Ferguson is already tired of hearing from Nurmagomedov about what is deserved in this mercurial game.
"All bullsh*t aside, the guy is a whiny b*tch," Ferguson said of Nurmagomedov on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "He can whine as much as he wants to.
"Instead of people saying, ‘hey, you need to go for the belt,' or, ‘you need to do this, you need to do that' -- me, I'm waving my little finger in the air and I f*cking keep moving forward. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, which is taking care of my family and training my ass off. And that translates into winning and getting Performance of the Night bonuses. Right now I got, what, eight finishes out of 12? I'm on a nine-fight win streak. I'm what, 22-3? Sh*t, where's my title shot, man? I'm not complaining, I'm not saying nothing, because I know it's going to come to me."
From a numbers standpoint alone, Ferguson's current run stands as one of the most remarkable feats accomplished by any lightweight in UFC history. His string of wins includes dominant performances over Edson Barboza, Josh Thomson, Gleison Tibau, and dos Anjos, and that success now has "El Cucuy" primed for a major fight within the division, whether it's against the reigning champion, McGregor, or the next closest contender, Nurmagomedov.
With McGregor likely out until mid-2017 due to the birth of his first child, Ferguson said he is more than happy to keep this train rolling and revisit his rivalry with Nurmagomedov, a fighter with whom he has "unfinished business" after two past match-ups between the pair fell apart due to injury.
"Like I said before, I'm not going to rob [Nurmagomedov] of an ass-whooping. He does deserve one from my hands," Ferguson said.
"Who else is he going to fight? He wants to fight for a belt. (Eddie) Alvarez ain't going to fight him. Come on, dude. That dude's been running from me for a long time. He hasn't wanted nothing to do with me. His pops was like the first one to say, ‘yeah, my son will fight you,' and Khabib's running the other way. He's calling Conor a chicken and Khabib is running from me, I'm calling him a chicken. So it's a trickle effect, man. I'm telling you, everybody is scared of the Bogeyman at the end."
Similar to Ferguson, Nurmagomedov is currently riding one of the hottest streaks in the lightweight division, having racked up an undefeated 24-0 record that includes eight UFC wins. Nurmagomedov's ascent has been slowed though, largely due to a string of injuries that left him sidelined for nearly two years from April 2014 to April 2016.
The undefeated Dagestani finally made a resounding statement for his contendership with a ferocious victory over Michael Johnson at UFC 205, however Ferguson wasn't overly impressed by what he saw from Nurmagomedov.
"He got smacked up a couple times like I thought he was going to," Ferguson said. "But when you put all your chips in the striking, you're going to get exactly what Michael Johnson did, which is absolutely nothing off the bottom. He didn't practice, not one time probably, getting up. He probably thought in his head that he was going to knock [Nurmagomedov] out, but that's not what I do. That's what a lot of older fighters do, just get one-dimensional.
"You can't really be one-dimensional in this fight game. If you are, you're going to get knocked out or you're going to get finished. Either that, or you're just going to take a lot of damage and you're just not going to be able to last very long. And Michael Johnson couldn't put it together. I don't know, Khabib did good. I'll give that to him, but he ain't going to go five rounds with me. That's for sure. That dude only wants to go one and out."
Ultimately, despite their differences, Ferguson and Nurmagomedov have agreed on one thing: that some sort of title needs to be on the line for each of their next fights.
Nurmagomedov told Russian media in recent days that he would be open to an interim title bout against Ferguson while McGregor is sidelined. On Monday, Ferguson said he is more than happy to oblige in that regard, although he also indicated that he nearly landed on the UFC 208 card set for Jan. 21 in his home state of California before things fell apart due to complications with his opponent.
"Man, I was excited. I was stoked about it," Ferguson said. "I was like, who's the opponent? And I can't really get too much into detail, but the person who was supposed to sign on the dotted line was a little too injured from his last bout, I guess, and had to wait a couple more months. I'm not going to say names, but all I'm going to say is you're going to have an interesting fight coming up pretty soon.
"I'm not sure what they have planned, lined up, trying to get me or somebody. But we'll keep our fingers crossed and we'll see what's up."