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Tony Ferguson: If McGregor vs. Diaz 3 is next, everything ‘UFC stands for’ goes ‘out the window’

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Tony Ferguson
Tony Ferguson faces Kevin Lee for the interim UFC lightweight title on Oct. 7 at UFC 216.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee haven’t even competed yet for the UFC interim lightweight strap, and already the narrative about what comes next for the 155-pound division has started inching past the two headliners of UFC 216.

On Wednesday, a little over a week before Ferguson and Lee throw down in Las Vegas for the right to challenge UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, the Irishman’s head coach John Kavanagh called for McGregor’s first title defense to come in a blockbuster trilogy fight against Nate Diaz in early 2018.

Such a booking would effectively make Ferguson vs. Lee little more than a placeholder for an opportunity long in the horizon. And for Ferguson, whose streak of nine consecutive wins is unrivaled in the 155-pound division, that’s just not acceptable.

“The next fight for Conor should be whoever wins this interim lightweight title,” Ferguson said flatly Thursday on a UFC 216 media conference call. “Regardless of winning or losing this, myself or if it’s Kevin Lee, that b*tch (McGregor) needs to defend or vacate and he needs to unify that belt. Anything else, with as far as him trying to fight Nate and everything else, that’s the bullsh*t rankings and everything else that the UFC stands for just [going] out the window, man.”

Ferguson, 33, has seemingly been on the precipice of a title fight for the past several years. His unparalleled run of lightweight dominance includes wins over Josh Thomson, Edson Barboza, and former champion Rafael dos Anjos, among many others. In almost any other scenario, a streak like his would have warranted a title shot ages ago, but McGregor’s reign as champion has been unique, to say the least, and Kavanagh suggested Wednesday that in the afterglow of Mayweather vs. McGregor, “The Notorious” is now focusing only on “doing fights because they’re fun” rather than booking matchups based on divisional merit.

And Ferguson can see the writing on the wall.

“This has been my division before McNuggets even stepped into this b*tch,” Ferguson said. “Even when I was at Paradigm Sports Management, he signed up at 145 pounds. The agreement was he wasn’t going to come up to 155 pounds, but that raised a conflict of interest and I’m pissed, so that b*tch needs to fight me or he needs to fight the guy that’s holding the belt.

“I mean, really? You have rankings for a reason,” Ferguson added. “You have an interim belt for a reason — so you can unify the thing. The guy (Diaz) is what, a top-10 (lightweight)? Not even a top-five? Kevin Lee’s got more heart than Nate, and I have more heart than this whole entire division. So if they want to put that fight together, then that’s great, but you know the fans will be pissed, because obviously they know that f*cking Diaz and Conor is going to make a lot of money, but the real righteous thing to do is to make sure the belts become unified. That’s what really needs to happen.”

Nonetheless, Ferguson admitted that he wouldn’t be surprised if Diaz somehow gets the title shot over the winner of UFC 216’s main event, even though Diaz has sidelined himself for over a year since losing to the Irishman at UFC 202.

“Money talks, bullsh*t walks, man. So obviously they’re going to protect their pocket and they’re going to keep McNuggets away from a real contender,” Ferguson said.

“Real belt or no belt, it doesn’t matter what anybody says, this is a belt that’s going to have to be unified, otherwise he’s going to have to defend or vacate.”

Ultimately, Ferguson acknowledged that the entire discussion is pointless if he falters against Lee, so for now his aim lies solely on pushing his streak to 10 straight wins at UFC 216.

Then, and only then, will he allow himself to worry about McGregor’s infamous red panty nights and what comes next.

“I don’t like red. I like blue. That’s my color. But red panty, green panty, it don’t f*cking matter,” Ferguson said. “Whoever they put in front of me. And my first manager told me, ‘Tony, you make your money by winning,’ and that’s Brock Lesnar’s manager. He told me, ‘Don’t even worry about anything else, everything is going to fall into place.’ And I done kept that same attitude. I signed with my management and I kept the same attitude and I’m not changing any time soon.”