LAS VEGAS — One of the most fascinating lightweight fights in recent memory will go down at UFC 209 when red-hot 155-pound contenders Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov square off for the UFC interim lightweight title in Saturday’s co-main event. But while fight week may have barely begun, tensions are already riding high between Ferguson and his foe, as “El Cucuy” alluded to at Wednesday’s open workouts.
“You can love somebody without liking them. I love Khabib, man,” Ferguson said. “He’s my brother in arms. We’re all here, we’re all for one. I got peace with him, but inside there, we got beef. You gotta squash this sh*t. I’m tired of it, man. He’s a bully. I’m going to shut him up.
“And I’ve got respect for him, and his father, and his whole camp, but the next time they try to surround me and my team, they got problems. Because they think they can try to pull that stupid sh*t? No. I’m a dangerous man inside and outside the Octagon, baby.”
When asked what he meant about Nurmagomedov’s camp surrounding Ferguson and his team, Ferguson (22-3) demurred, saying only, “No comment, next question,” rather than elaborating on his statement. But the brief flash of anger was only the latest in a trend that showed itself last week during UFC 209’s media conference call.
Ferguson and Nurmagomedov essentially took over the call, trading bitter remarks throughout the near 40-minute media proceedings. One of Nurmagomedov’s most common refrains was that he was most responsible for setting up the fight at UFC 209, largely due to him turning down other opportunities and requesting a fight against Ferguson while Ferguson battled with the UFC over a renegotiated contract.
Nurmagomedov has since repeated that claim elsewhere, and for Ferguson — who has won a division-best nine consecutive fights — the claim holds no water.
“Yeah, he’s the one who fought all my fights. He’s the one who won The Ultimate Fighter,” Ferguson said. “He’s the one who knocked out everybody. He finished everybody for me. He’s that guy, I guess. He’s the one who gave me this fight, huh? Well I guess he’s the one who really fought, so I think he’s going to go out there and fight himself.
“He’s got issues, man. If he says that he wants to give me this fight, I’m like, dude, you were f*cking next in line. You fought Michael Johnson, who was the No. 5 or No. 6 (ranked lightweight). I’ve been fighting my way since I broke my arm. I started, where, (at No.) 21 before I broke my arm? Shot back up to 60-something? I done bitched not one f*cking time. I worked my ass off to get to where I’m at. So for a man to say that, that dude’s naïve, man. He’s listening to his manager too much. I think he needs to go back to the drawing board and fire that dude.
“I’m here to win. I’m not leaving it to the judges,” Ferguson later added. “I’m going to put so much pressure on this kid, I’m going to hit him so hard in his stomach, I hope this dude takes a knee. And if he doesn’t, I’m going to take him down then let him up and beat him mentally. This dude has no f*cking way, no way to beat me on my way to victory.”
A win at UFC 209 would unquestionably mark the greatest moment of Ferguson’s already sterling UFC career. Not only would it net him the interim title, it also would put him in pole position for a big-money match-up against the division’s current champion, Conor McGregor.
And ahead of the biggest fight of his life, Ferguson delivered a message just for McGregor.
“Go spend some of that money, go do what you’re going to do, enjoy your new kid,” Ferguson said. “Because trust me, I work my ass off for this. I take a blue-collar approach and I love it. I don’t have to talk the talk. I walk the f*cking walk. So as far as Conor goes and the belt, they’re so far out there. I hope he gets it in his head and comes back to the real time, because this is where we’re at. This belt (at UFC 209), I consider it the real belt, regardless of if it’s interim or not. If I can hold it and I can feel it and if it’s f*cking shiny as f*ck, it’s real enough for me.”