Confusion continues to reign over the UFC lightweight division, though for now, it’s two top contenders are in a united front.
For the past several weeks, the UFC has attempted to make an interim title match-up between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov to decide the next challenger to Conor McGregor’s lightweight throne. While both fighters vehemently want the bout, negotiations hit a standstill last week as UFC president Dana White told reporters in Las Vegas that the UFC would not grant Ferguson’s terms of wanting to receive equal pay as Nurmagomedov.
Not surprisingly, the response left both Ferguson and Nurmagomedov frustrated with the situation.
“I’m not sure, man. You ask them. Ask them why they’re not paying me, and maybe we’ll get some answers,” Ferguson said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I haven’t had the opportunities that they have (given Nurmagomedov), as far as, over the past five fights, I’ve only been on one pay-per-view. All the rest have been on FOX Sports 1 cards, which limits my mainstream exposure. Khabib has been on three pay-per-views and two UFC on FOXs, which draws much larger audiences than FOX Sports 1 cards.
“Despite this, there’s nothing that suggests that Khabib draws any larger than me. I haven’t been given the same opportunities or the same push as Khabib. I don’t belong to AKA or a big major sport’s program. I choose to do different things on my own and I’m building my own legacy, my own facilities, but that’s later on. That’s a completely different subject. So, as far as compensation goes, like I said, the UFC has been known to change it (for a particular fight) over their history, and I’m just looking for them to get this thing going, man. Let’s go. Let’s go, UFC.”
Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are unquestionably the lightweight division’s two most deserving title contenders to the belt.
Ferguson has put together a staggering nine-fight win streak over recent years — the longest ever for a UFC fighter without receiving a title shot — while Nurmagomedov is the owner of a flawless 8-0 Octagon record buoyed by a string of dominant victories. The two have supported one another’s position as well, with Nurmagomedov even tweeting on Monday that if the UFC refused to raise Ferguson’s pay, the undefeated Dagestani would pay Ferguson an extra $200,000 out of his own pocket.
“You’ve got Khabib f*cking offering (me) $200,000 to fight me. I’m not going to take his money because we work for the same kind of thing,” Ferguson said. “I would offer the same thing. But that’s not what I’m in here for, man. Honestly, we’re both two of the same kind of fighters because we fight for something different. The UFC has a chance to make the most money out of everyone right now. They’re looking at the hugest, biggest demographic in Russia. Well let us fight, man. I’m trying to build my demographic too. Let me work for you guys. Let me work for you guys the way that I have been working, but compensate me the way that I need to be compensated.
“The fight is us or Conor, man,” Ferguson added. “And I know both of us are going to smash that fool. So the real fight is this fight, and we both know it. We’ve met each other. We’ve sized each other up. We know what the f*ck is up.”
In speaking with reporters last week, White insisted that Ferguson would need to honor the terms of his current UFC contract or the fight would be off the table, with White stating that “when you sign a deal, you honor your deal.” White also threw his support behind the idea of a potential match-up between Nurmagomedov and reigning featherweight champion Jose Aldo for the interim UFC lightweight belt — a match-up which Nurmagomedov turned down in solidarity with Ferguson.
The point of contention about contracts is one that the UFC has made during tough negotiations before, however it is not uncommon for the UFC to renegotiate contracts with athletes for big fights when circumstances call for it, and the organization also commonly cuts fighters who have fights remaining on their deals. So considering that his current run includes six post-fight bonuses, a slew of exciting finishes, and a résumé that includes wins over Edson Barboza, Josh Thomson, Lando Vannata and former champion Rafael dos Anjos, Ferguson firmly believes that a bump in pay would be well deserved.
“I have a contract, but I’ve outperformed that contract,” Ferguson said.
“The UFC has a long history of changing a fighter’s compensation for a particular bout. … There’s always changes that’s always being made as far as contracts. Take for instance, I got yelled at, screamed at by Dana. I got a phone call one morning. It was crazy. I was like, man, I used to like getting phone calls. But it’s kind of crazy, I got this phone call saying, ‘you wore jeans to the Reebok weigh-ins.’ And I was like, well, they were in the morning. I wasn’t trying to go against anything. They had no tags on them. And I was just trying to be cool, be like, ‘hey, I made weight with jeans on,’ and it wasn’t even the ceremonial weigh-ins. I’m not going to go and address other athletes that have performed this type of feat, but I got an earful on it.”
Ferguson acknowledged that several other fighters have worn jeans to UFC weigh-ins, most recently being Ronda Rousey at UFC 207.
So ultimately, while the present situation is frustrating, Ferguson said he is sticking to his guns and is holding out hope that cooler heads will prevail.
“Everybody wants the fight. I’m ready to go, man. You know I’m ready to go,” Ferguson said. “Everybody wants to see this fight. Everybody wants to see these fireworks. They want to see that explosiveness. They want to see me throw Khabib on his back and get that five-point motion with this USA wrestling. Because if wrestling was easy, it would be called Sambo, my friend. Straight up, I’m going mop that dude up. I’m going to use his hat for a mop.
“But for right now, I’m enjoying my time. The fans, you guys need to get anxious, man. Let’s get some chatter going. Let’s get the UFC involved with this. If you’ve got Khabib willing to sacrifice his life and give me $200,000 of his own money, something’s wrong with that sh*t. I’m not going to take that guy’s money. He’s got a family too. So do I, and he’s got bills to pay. So I’m not going after Khabib’s. All I want is my stuff right and to be compensated for what my numbers prove to be, so let’s go kids.
“Let’s take a chance on a kid, you know? Two fighters that deserve a chance. Let’s do this.”