As the reigning UFC lightweight champion prepares for a title unification bout against Justin Gaethje on Oct. 24, questions about a potential showdown with Ferguson still loom large considering the long history they share.
Ferguson was most recently scheduled to face Nurmagomedov at UFC 249 in May. But Nurmagomedov was unable to travel from his native Russia to the United States, which effectively prevented the fight from happening. Ferguson ultimately faced Gaethje and lost by fifth-round TKO, a brutal loss that marked his first defeat in 13 consecutive fights.
“Honestly, I feel a little bit bad, and at the same time, I understand,” Nurmagomedov said about Ferguson’s fight with Gaethje when speaking to ESPN. “I sent a message to [my manager] Ali [Abdelaziz] and told him right before the fight, Tony Ferguson [had] surgery on his left leg, right? If [Gaethje] gives him, [in] the beginning of the fight, a couple good leg kicks, fight’s over.
“When [the] fight [began], Tony Ferguson begin fight southpaw, but Tony is not a southpaw. OK, first round finished, and after Ferguson becomes a little bit nervous because his plan is not working. Second round, not working. End of the round he give [Gaethje] a good shot, uppercut. Third round, after third round, it was finished. It was finished for me.”
According to the undefeated Russian, he’s seen Ferguson take too much damage over the years, and that eventually catches up to everybody.
“Nobody can be the same for a long time,” Nurmagomedov explained. “Not Tony Ferguson, not Khabib, nobody. One day, someone gonna beat you, or something gonna happen. God don’t give to nobody, power, reaction, mental, everything in one level always. One day, it’s going to go down, and his day came in May. I understand, Tony Ferguson’s time is finished.
“Now he’s going to come back, someone going to beat him again, I believe. Because when you take damage like this, you never going to be the same. Never ever. Even if you’re Tony Ferguson. He takes too much damage. You see how he tapped, how he gave up end of the five rounds?”
Prior to the fight with Gaethje in May, Ferguson put himself through two separate weight cuts based on the original date for the event, April 18, as well as before the actual card on May 9. There was speculation that perhaps the unnecessary weight-cutting affected Ferguson’s physical state leading into the fight with Gaethje. For his part, Nurmagomedov just didn’t understand the logic.
“Stupid,” Nurmagomedov said about the double weight cut. “Remember I told you I like Tony Ferguson but he’s a stupid guy. This is what I think.
“He keeps talking about me. Why you talking about me? Justin Gaethje smash you everywhere, why you keep talking about me? You want to promote yourself? OK, I agree with you, but if you really want to keep talking about me and this is something special or this put you in good position, this shows your mind. This shows your weakness.”
As far as being matched up with Ferguson for a sixth time, Nurmagomedov doesn’t see that happening any time soon, but then again, he does see a path back to a title shot for his longtime rival.
Nurmagomedov suggested Ferguson step into a short notice fight against his friend and teammate Islam Makhachev, who was also scheduled to compete at UFC 254 until his opponent Rafael dos Anjos was forced off the card after testing positive for COVID-19.
“Maybe if he comes back, but I don’t think this is possible,” Nurmagomedov said. “He can come [to] Fight Island and fight with Islam Makhachev. He has six [fight] winning streak. He is almost top-10. He has a name. Why not? Why he don’t want to take this fight. UFC going to give him good money.
“Ali Abdelaziz going give him $100,000 plus $100,000 [to fight Islam]. Very good chance fight with Islam Makhachev, maybe he can fight for the title if he wins, but I think his time is finished.”
The UFC announced on Wednesday that Makhachev will not compete on Oct. 24. Ferguson also made it rather clear he would not face Nurmagomedov’s training partner in a response to the Russian’s manager over Twitter.