LAS VEGAS — Either Khabib Nurmagomedov or Tony Ferguson will be crowned the UFC interim lightweight champion at UFC 209, with the winner of their co-headlining bout landing in prime position to score a lucrative fight against the UFC’s reigning 155-pound champion, Irish star Conor McGregor.
But with McGregor currently on hiatus while also pursuing a cross-sport boxing match against Floyd Mayweather, both Nurmagomdeov and Ferguson find themselves in agreement that the real UFC lightweight champion will be decided on Saturday night.
“I think this is the real championship fight,” Nurmagomedov said Wednesday at UFC 209’s open workouts. “I don’t care about [Conor McGregor]. You guys know his Uncle Dana give him gift. He jump over all contenders and he fight for the title. I no understand this fight. He catch [Eddie Alvarez] a couple times, he go down, Eddie Alvarez. This fight, for me, is fake fight.
“We have real fight now. This is the people’s main event. This is one of the biggest fights in 2017, of all-time in the UFC, and you guys think I think about other guys? Of course, no. I’m going to make my win streak a 25-win streak, take the belt, become the new UFC lightweight and undisputed, undefeated champion. And afterward, we’ll see what happens.”
Nurmagomedov (24-0) and McGregor have been closely linked for some time now. The Dagestani sambo savant was offered a fight against Alvarez — the then-UFC lightweight champion — ahead of last year’s landmark UFC 205 event in New York, only for McGregor to swoop in and seize the match-up. McGregor went on to effortlessly defeat Alvarez, while Nurmagomedov had no recourse but to prove his claim to a title shot with a dominant victory over Michael Johnson on the card’s prelims.
But McGregor’s decision to step away from the sport while awaiting the birth of his first son threw a monkey wrench into Nurmagomedov’s lightweight plans, and now the undefeated 28-year-old is slated to meet the only other man in the division whose UFC win streak bests his own: Ferguson, a winner of nine consecutive fights.
“I think he’s much better than Conor,” Nurmagomedov said of Ferguson. “Conor has very good boxing skills, but Tony has elbows, knees, unpredictable. His ground game is good, his conditioning is good. Maybe Tony’s boxing is not good like Conor’s boxing, but MMA fighter, who’s better? I think Tony is better.
“I think this is my toughest match-up, but we’ll see. Nobody knows. Maybe this fight finishes in first round? Nobody knows. I have tough opponents before, like (Rafael) dos Anjos, (Gleison) Tibau, Michael Johnson. These guys are beasts too. But Tony is a little bit different because his style make him different, and he have nine-win streak. We have to respect this.”
While Nurmagomedov has ribbed Ferguson for some of the outside factors surrounding their fight in the lead-up to UFC 209, he has spoken nothing but words of respect for Ferguson’s skills inside the cage, which he rates higher than anyone else’s in the division. And for those reasons, “The Eagle” is confident that he and Ferguson will have a battle to remember this weekend.
“If I talked about, ‘hey, he have fake nine-win streak’ — how can I say this? I cannot say this,” Nurmagomedov said. “But he’s a little bit, like, I no understand his mind. I don’t like this guy too much, to be honest, but we have to give him respect for his game. This Saturday, hungry eagle is gonna eat house cat.”