The saga of Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov may have had more false starts than any fight in recent MMA history, but if one thing is obvious after Wednesday’s UFC 223 conference call, it’s this: Even after all these years, there is certainly no love lost between the two lightweight rivals.
What was supposed to be a customary pre-fight media call ahead of the April 7 pay-per-view ultimately turned into an hour-long dispute between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov. Even with UFC 223’s co-headliners Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk on the line, the UFC’s reigning interim lightweight champion and his undefeated Dagestani counterpart effectively monopolized the conversation, waging war on one another from the very first question and incessantly interrupting one another in a chaotic affair.
“It’s going to be a big fight,” Nurmagomedov began the call. “We were supposed to fight in 2015, we were supposed to fight in 2016, ‘17. Now it’s ’18 and I hope we’re going to fight, finally we’re going to fight, because this is the most important fight in the lightweight division right now. Fight for real belt, very big show in Brooklyn. I’m very excited about this.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, man. I got the belt,” Ferguson interjected. “I’ve got the belt already, that’s where you’re wrong, dog. I got the belt. This is my belt.”
“Hey, calm down,” Nurmagomedov shot back. “Can I finish?”
“No, you’re talking about some bullsh*t, kid. You had your chance to fight for that belt and you missed it,” Ferguson said. “You missed weight.”
“I’m going to talk, finish, and after you can talk,” responded Nurmagomedov.
“No, you know what, you started it and you never finished it,” Ferguson replied. “You guys punked out like p*ssies and now I’m right here. You’re gonna face the boogeyman. I’m giving you one chance to quit, to walk away and f*cking retire. That’s all you got.”
“To be honest, I didn’t understand your English,” Nurmagomedov said. “You talk like stupid guy.”
From there, Ferguson and Nurmagomedov were off to the races. Seemingly every question led to lengthy back-and-forths that stretched upwards of five minutes each. Whether the topic was old fights, Nurmagomedov’s unbeaten record, Ferguson’s interim belt, or the trio of attempted matchups between the two 155-pounders, nothing was off limits.
“Let’s talk about numbers,” Nurmagomedov said at one point. “All my life, nobody make me tap. Nobody. In amateur, training, doesn’t matter — never. Never I’m tired, never make me tap. Never. What are you talking about? About my conditioning? Please calm down.”
“Your conditioning sucks and, dude, you have half a pound to lose,” Ferguson cut in. “You’ve never made championship weight. You have a half a pound more to lose. You know what, I hope to God your sh*t’s under condition, man, because if you mess this up, you’re gonna have the whole world hating on you, doggy.”
“Are you finished?” Nurmagomedov asked.
“Nope, I’m never finished. Wait ‘til you taste my jab. I’m gonna make you taste nickels and dimes, son,” Ferguson said.
Nurmagomedov’s weight issues and cardio became a running theme in the call, as Ferguson repeatedly reminded “The Eagle” of his failed weight cut that led to UFC 209 falling apart on the day of weigh-ins.
The issue of UFC favoritism also became a prevalent discussion point.
“You’re f*cking terrible,” Ferguson said at one point. “Wait ‘til you test my conditioning, dog. I’m gonna take you in deep waters. I’m gonna leave you out there with no f*cking snorkel.”
“What happened with your conditioning when you fight Danny Castillo?” Nurmagomedov asked.
“I was worried about jiu-jitsu,” Ferguson replied. “I was probably like, what, a blue belt? Get out of here. I’d like to test that. What about you, huh? You blew your wad the last fight. You went three rounds your last fight. You couldn’t even finish Edson Barboza. I finished him in the second round. Bullsh*tting me.”
“I no need finishes,” Nurmagomedov said. “Why I need finishes? Why? I’m fine when I go cage, like, relax, take my time, talk with Dana about future, how we gonna smash your face. It’s okay, we already have plan with Dana. That’s why he talk about Khabib time all the time and you’re jealous. You’re jealous.”
“Dana likes me better, you hate that. Because I’m a real fighter, dog. I show up. I make weight. I’m a professional,” Ferguson said after a similar claim earlier in the call.
“Who real fighter? You real fighter? You, seven times somebody give you knockdown in your UFC career. Seven times, you go down,” Nurmagomedov responded. “I’m gonna knock you out, you understand? I’m going to knock you out your face.”
“That’s cool. I hope you try to box me. That’s why I’m gonna take your ass down,” Ferguson said. “Straight up, I’m gonna f*cking break your ankles.”
“Hey, nobody understand your English, bro. Calm down, please. Relax,” Nurmagomedov said. “Why you nervous? Why? We’re just talking. You’re nervous, you speak like stupid guy.”
“I can smell it through that phone, kid,” Ferguson shot back. “That’s all I smell: Fear. I smell it on you. You reek of it.”
The lone issue that Ferguson and Nurmagomedov seemed to agree on was that UFC 223’s main event will decide who was the true No. 1 lightweight in the world.
In that regard, both men agreed that UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor isn’t in the discussion — though even that solidarity only lasted so long.
“I think everybody believe this,” Nurmagomedov said.
“That’s right, tell ‘em. I’m the f*cking champ,” Ferguson quickly responded.
“No, you interim champ. Be humble, bro. You interim champ,” Nurmagomedov repiled. “Be humble, boy. You interim champ, you not official champ. You still interim. … You have fake belt. Tony, you have fake belt. Sell it. Sell it and make some money.”
“Fake belt? That sh*t looks real to me. It’s shiny,” Ferguson said. “You’ve got the fake belt because everybody hands ‘em to you. All those belts that you’ve got, and people floating your boat and this Reebok sponsorships, that’s the sh*t I don’t give a f*ck about. And that’s one thing that you’ve got me wrong.”
“Now you talk about Reebok, hey? Because these guys don’t give you contract and now you jealous too? I can ask Reebok to give you contract if you want,” Nurmagomedov said, chuckling. “Tony, Reebok, they make very good shoe now. We can order you one. What size you have? What size you have, please? Need to know. Like nine, 10? I can order for you. ... They can make you shoes, put like ‘Interim Lightweight Champ, Tony Ferguson.’ You want this?”
“I’m in a good place right now,” Ferguson said. “And you’re putting me in a better place every time you open your mouth.”
UFC 223 takes place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The entirety of the event’s pre-fight media conference call can be heard here.