After Tony Ferguson defeated former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos on Saturday night in Mexico City, the floor was his.
This Saturday is arguably the biggest lightweight title fight in UFC history, with Eddie Alvarez defending against Conor McGregor. By all rights, the winner of the UFC Fight Night 98 main event had a strong argument to get the next title shot at the man who leaves Madison Square Garden as champion on Saturday night.
Ferguson (23-3) may get the next shot with his win over RDA. He's got nine wins in a row, including some major names in that streak like Edson Barboza and Josh Thomson. The only fighters with longer winning streaks within the UFC in history are its greatest champions, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Royce Gracie and Demetrious Johnson. Another thing Ferguson has going for himself is he's an exciting fighter. Saturday's fights made his third in a row to win the fight of the night bonus, and he got performance bonuses in his two wins before that.
Ferguson won a straight 48-47 decision over dos Anjos, an unique fight in that most rounds were close, and nobody dominated. Yet, there was surprisingly little complaining about the decision as is usually the case in close fights. All three judges had Ferguson taking rounds two, four and five in a fight that dos Anjos could have still won had he taken control as late as the fight's final minute.
Ferguson defeated a guy who had streamrolled the likes of Benson Henderson, Donald Cerrone, Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis.
But this is an industry where the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and where the competition is as cutthroat in the lightweight division as any.
When Ferguson had the floor after his win, he never mentioned Alvarez or McGregor, or said much of anything. He spoke a few words of Spanish and largely excused himself from the rest of his interview.
You have to look no farther than Nate Diaz, who after scoring a win over Michael Johnson, his second win in his previous five fights, he made his own sound bite by challenging McGregor. At the time it seemed to make no sense to even think about such a fight, yet there was talk of it from that moment on.
McGregor, the featherweight champion, was gearing himself up for trying to hold two championships at the same time, while Diaz wasn't even close to a lightweight title shot. But with the sound bite in the can, after then-champion dos Anjos was injured before a scheduled fight with McGregor, Diaz became his replacement. After meeting McGregor twice and doing two of the biggest pay-per-view numbers in company history, his bank account is richer by multiple million dollars. Had he never gone after McGregor verbally first, there's no saying whether he'd have even been considered for the replacement fight that will change his life forever.
Ferguson could have talked up his streak, and demanded the shot. Instead, he left the door open.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is 23-0, the best record of any fighter in the company. He faces Michael Johnson on Saturday, and if he wins in impressive fashion, or any fashion, he's not likely to drop the same opportunity. In an era where marketability is often more important than performance inside the cage, Ferguson does have an edge on Nurmagomedov. But Ferguson won a close fight and if Nurmagomedov wins big, and talks bigger, he may build more anticipation for himself as a title contender.
What also matters is what happens with the title. If Alvarez beats McGregor and retains the title, the UFC will likely choose the next contender. If McGregor wins the title, he'll have great impact on deciding his challenger. He's choosing the guy he can make the most money with. And unless Ferguson gets aggressive and builds up great public interest in seeing him face McGregor, the money fight is still a third bout with Diaz.
Let's look at how Fortunes Changes for Five stars of Saturday's show.
TONY FERGUSON - Sorting out Ferguson's next opponent can't be done until after Saturday, since three of his prospective opponents, McGregor, Alvarez, and Nurmagomedov are all fighting, as is Michael Johnson, who was the last person to beat Ferguson back in 2012.
He and current featherweight contender Max Holloway are the only two fighters in company history to have ever won nine straight without getting a championship shot.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS - The former champion, dos Anjos (25-9) has lost twice in a row, but he's still a threat.
Again, this coming Saturday will put the lightweight division more into focus. He's not likely to face the Alvarez vs. McGregor loser, and certainly can't face the winner. If Nurmagomedov beats Michael Johnson (17-10), putting him against dos Anjos doesn't make sense. If Johnson beats Nurmagomedov, that would open the door wider for Ferguson to get the shot, and Johnson vs. dos Anjos would make sense. Barboza (18-4) and Beneil Dariush (14-2) could also be next opponents.
RICARDO LAMAS - Lamas (17-5) scored an impressive submission win Saturday over Charles Oliveira, who had missed weight by nine pounds. Lamas' losses to Chad Mendes and Holloway, as well as Jose Aldo, have established him as a clear-cut top ten fighter, but not anyone in the championship conversation.
But just because of the lack of options, if Frankie Edgar (20-5-1) beats Jeremy Stephens (25-12) Saturday, Edgar will have either Lamas or the loser of the Dec. 10 fight with Anthony Pettis (19-5) vs. Holloway (16-3) as his best options.
CHARLES OLIVEIRA - When Oliveira (21-7, 1 no contest) showed up in UFC in 2010, at the age of 20, and submitted Darren Elkins in 41 seconds, and then followed by submitting Efrain Escudero, putting his record at 14-0, he looked like a future champion. Six years later, after going 7-7, with one no contest, over his next 15 fights, and missing weight on four occasions, he's never lived up to that promise.
Saturday marked the fourth time Oliveira missed making 145, and in missing by nine pounds, even with the excuse of his taking the fight late, it's hard to believe UFC will book him again in that division.
At lightweight, the division where he started, he'll have to start from scratch. With is submission-oriented style, an interesting encounter would be with Marcin Held (22-5), who lost his UFC debut on Saturday to Diego Sanchez.
ALEX GRASSO - Grasso (9-0) came into the UFC and tore the house down at Arena Ciudad de Mexico, getting a huge standing ovation for her decision win over Heather Jo Clark.
Grasso has significant value to the organization, because as a 23-year-old native of Guadalajara, she could become one of the company's flagship fighters in the Mexican market. Grasso didn't show anything that would make her appear to be a threat to strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Grasso may be able to have the role in her home market that Paige VanZant has in the U.S. market, as someone who can be marketed as long as they win more than they lose, whether they ever reach top tier status or not.
In that vein, Grasso's next fight, to further bring up her name, could be against the winner of the Dec. 17 VanZant (7-2) vs. Michelle Waterson (13-4) fight.