No stranger to promotional politics himself, Sonnen wondered how the influence of McGregor could affect a re-booking of the highly-anticipated (and still never realized) Nurmagomedov-Ferguson clash. After all, Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have been set to fight on five separate occasions with the bout falling through each time, while McGregor has long been one of the UFC’s most reliable draws in terms of box office pull and availability.
During a recent appearance on Submission Radio, Sonnen was asked how committed he thinks the UFC is to booking a blockbuster rematch between Nurmagomedov and McGregor, and if it would be better for McGregor to complete his trilogy with Nate Diaz instead. In Sonnen’s opinion, any course of action that pushes McGregor past Ferguson in the contenders’ line is unfair to Ferguson.
“I think now is the perfect time for that [Nate Diaz Trilogy fight],” Sonnen said (transcription via Denis Shkuratov). “And look, I know everything that’s been said is we’re going to keep Conor on ice and we’re gonna put him against Khabib, the winner of Khabib-Tony in September. But of course, that was believing that Khabib was going to win.
“You have to understand, if that is still the plan, then that means we’re getting ready to pull the screw job on Tony a second time. They have promised Tony an interim title fight for the second time. The first time he did it. He never lost it. And all of a sudden that belt is gone. We as fans cannot allow that to happen. If Tony comes out of this thing, Tony needs to be fighting Khabib. And if at some point they try to slide in Conor, which is likely, maybe not likely, but possible, that means we screwed Tony a second time. We can’t let that happen.”
Nurmagomedov and Ferguson were most recently set to fight at an April 18 show, originally billed as UFC 249, but COVID-19 travel restrictions left Nurmagomedov stranded in Russia after he returned home when it became unclear where that event was going to take place. It would eventually be postponed outright.
An interim lightweight title bout was announced for UFC 249, with Justin Gaethje stepping in on short notice to face Ferguson, and that matchup has now been moved to May 9. Even with their original date gone, Ferguson still made weight on April 17, a move that raised some eyebrows even taking into account Ferguson’s typically intense behavior.
Sonnen isn’t sure what to make of Ferguson cutting weight so far ahead of his fight, but isn’t ruling out the possibility that it might actually be beneficial.
“I think it’s a fair talking point,” Sonnen said. “Now, how should we interpret this ahead of time? Look, this is an experiment, okay? Nobody knows, does pulling down and drawing your body out and then two weeks later doing it again, is that helpful? Are we all gonna look back and go, ‘Wow, that’s what we should be doing? We shouldn’t be taxing ourselves in that last 48 hours where you’re dragging out there 24 hours later, we should be doing it over a longer stint.’ Is that what we’re going to find? I don’t know.
“I will just remind you of this, Tony is a wrestler. Tony, in fact, won a national championship at college wrestling. In college wrestling you will have 30 matches over the season and you will have 16 weigh-ins one week apart. So, this is nothing new for Tony. People have made a big deal that he weighed in and two weeks later he’s gotta weigh in again. He grew up weighing in every single Saturday morning. So, never once in his wrestling career has any wrestler ever looked back and go, ‘Well, you know, I had a bad night tonight, but I think it’s cause I weighed in last week.’ One’s got nothing to do with the other.”
As for the matchup itself, Sonnen believes that Ferguson would have had a clear advantage had he and Gaethje met on April 18, as Gaethje’s time to prepare for that date was limited. Now that it’s taking place in May, “The Highlight” presents an even more intriguing challenge to Ferguson’s 12-fight win streak.
“Well, let’s back up, if this was two weeks ago like it was supposed to be, Tony Ferguson [wins], nothing to see here,” Sonnen said. “This is totally different with Gaethje getting an extra three weeks. It’s totally different. Three of those weeks, two of them will be spent training hard. He’ll taper the last week, but so will Tony. You give a guy two weeks, and two may not sound like much, but I’m telling you, you can get into shape in two weeks. And Tony had already had three. Now, three is not quite enough for five rounds. Three is not quite enough for everything, but it’s still not a terrible spot. Two extra weeks changes this fight.
“Now, if you want a prediction, I still lean towards Tony, but I do think instead of this being two rounds of fun, you’re now looking closer to four rounds of fun. I prefer it as a fan. I prefer that we got a little more time for these guys.”
Watch Sonnen’s full appearance on Submission Radio below: