The circumstances that brought Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov together at UFC 223 may not have been ideal, but there’s no denying the quality of the fight itself.
Judging solely on résumé, it is hard to dispute that Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are the two best lightweight fighters in the world. Ferguson, the current UFC interim lightweight champion, has won 10 consecutive fights, an unprecedented run of success inside the UFC’s deepest division. Nurmagomedov, likewise, is an undefeated 9-0 inside the Octagon. Both men represent the very best the 155-pound weight class have to offer, and Ferguson is promising fireworks on April 7 for UFC 223 in Brooklyn.
“I get hit for a certain reason, I want people to use their energy against me. But for Khabib, that b*tch is not going to touch me,” Ferguson vowed Monday on The MMA Hour. “Not one time. I’m going to dance circles around this kid. I’m going to be hitting him with some nasty f*cking uppercuts that are going to make him think twice about shooting in on me.
“Have you ever seen Khabib cut in a fight? I don’t think so. I’m Mexican and I’ve got some f*cking sharp ass blades on my elbows, so that b*tch better think twice about f*cking showing his face in front of me, especially inside that cage. Get in my face, dude, I’ll hit you with my knee. I’m going to leave you f*cking bloody.”
The bout is one that is a long time in the making. Ferguson and Nurmagomedov have been scheduled to clash in each of the past four years, but have yet to even fight once.
In 2015, a scheduled bout between the two failed to come to fruition after Nurmagomedov pulled out with an injury. In 2016, history repeated itself when Ferguson did the same. In 2017, an interim title fight between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov fell apart at the eleventh hour when Nurmagomedov was hospitalized due to issues cutting weight. Now, in 2018, a fight between the two has once again been booked, but with Ferguson already holding some form of UFC gold. And Ferguson is more than ready for what’s to come.
“You’ve got to remember, I’ve prepared for this gentleman four times in a row,” Ferguson said. “This is going to be the fourth time. So I’m not that impressed with him. I wasn’t the first time I set eyes on his footage. I’m a wrestler and he has the hardest time beating wrestlers. Look at the hard time that he had beating Gleison Tibau, who just performed this weekend (at UFC 220) and just got knocked out.
“I finished Tibau in the first round via submission. Khabib had to go all the rounds and he couldn’t take [Tibau] down. Now this might’ve been pre-USADA or whatever, but I’m talking techniques, man. He looked f*cking sloppy. And he looked so beat that he lost that fight, and that is the one fight that he lost in the UFC. So all you fans, go back and watch Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Gleison Tibau and watch Tony Ferguson vs. Gleison Tibau, and you tell me the f*cking difference, who the champ is.”
Tibau isn’t the only common opponent Ferguson and Nurmagomedov share.
At UFC 219 in December, Nurmagomedov put a savage beating on top-ranked lightweight contender Edson Barboza, outclassing Barboza from pillar to post en route to a unanimous decision win. Ferguson has faced Barboza too, all the way back in 2015, and “El Cucuy” finished the dangerous Brazilian with a second-round submission in a bloody and entertaining affair. So considering how things played out — and the fact that UFC 219 marked Nurmagomedov’s first fight in over a year — Ferguson isn’t willing to give too much credit to his Dagestani rival.
“I was impressed that he showed up. I wasn’t impressed that he didn’t make championship weight to demonstrate that he could to me,” Ferguson said. “I was impressed that he went three rounds, instead of his traditional 10 fights in Russia where he had only two professional rounds, because that’s the only rounds he had to fight. So with his fluffy record and his fluffy hat, I have to say I was kind of impressed that he actually showed up to the mat.
“He had a decent performance but he didn’t leave any blood on him. And I finished Edson in the second round, all due respect to Edson; he’s a hell of a fighter. But [Nurmagomedov] had a hell of a time trying to take him down. It took me one time, got it done and moved on from there.”
While Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov represents one of the best fights the sport could offer in 2018, the fact remains that the circumstances surrounding it are uniquely strange. Ferguson was promised a title unification bout against UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor when he captured the interim strap in October. Not only did that fight not happen, but UFC president Dana White has thus far refused to strip McGregor of the title that has stagnated since the Irishman won it in Nov. 2016.
To add onto that, the UFC has been a vociferous promoter on Nurmagomedov’s behalf since “The Eagle” won at UFC 219.
But all of that is just noise to Ferguson. He intends to do exactly what he’s done for the past 10 fights at UFC 223 and simply focus on what he can control.
“Dana could be right there in Khabib’s back pocket to make sure that b*tch makes weight, and he’s going to be right there to make sure that he tries to beat me, and I’m going to be preparing for three to five opponents just in case any of that bullsh*t switch happens, and I’m going to make sure that I retain my belt,” Ferguson said. “So, you know how Conor said ‘bring a f*cking army?’ I’m like, dude, f*cking f*ck your army. I got something better than that. I’m going to show you guys come UFC 223.
“This is Rumble in the Bronx and I’m Jackie Chan. Let’s do this sh*t.”
To that end, Ferguson also had a message for Nurmagomedov, as well as a desired method he’d like to down his longtime rival.
“It would be nice to finish Khabib via liver shots, wouldn’t it? I just want to see him wincing in pain on the ground where he belongs,” Ferguson said.
“I’m going to f*cking go Mike Tyson on this b*tch. Go back and watch my old footage, man. Go back and watch my old fights. I knocked people out at 170 pounds. I’ve seen Khabib, I think he was wearing platform shoes when we were over there facing off. That dude has an issue if he’s trying to compensate like that, so he’s already lost. So I’m going to finish this guy in distinct fashion.
“I’m not going to try to hurt him too much. I mean, I think we’re past that point of animosity where we needed so much anger to f*cking train for this. Hopefully, we can have some fun and be a little bit more lighthearted in camp so nobody gets injured. Please, AKA, don’t hurt your f*cking boy, because you guys are notorious for that sh*t, and show up and make some weight. I know you have the world’s best weight-cutting guy besides myself, because I’m number-f*cking-one. So show up, dude, do your sh*t, and let’s have a good fight.”