Last week, it was announced that featherweight champion Max Holloway will move to lightweight to challenge #3 ranked Dustin Poirier for the UFC Interim Lightweight Championship at UFC 236, a rematch seven years in the making. However, it is conspicuously evident that one man, a former interim champion and rightful #1 contender, has been neglected: this man is Tony Ferguson.
Life is quite literally a highway for Tony Ferguson. The 35-year-old has won 11 fights in a row, including wins over world class opposition such as Rafael Dos Anjos, Kevin Lee and Edson Barboza. Ferguson mixes exceptional cardio with incomparable pressure and precision to overwhelm and defeat his opponent. He consistently dismantles his adversary on the feet, leading to the knockout or a takedown, which allows Ferguson to attack with his trademark D’Arce choke.
Despite his phenomenal ability and accomplishments, “El Cucuy” fell victim to a catastrophic knee injury; in April of 2018, he was scheduled to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the fourth time, with the winner earning the right to call themselves UFC lightweight champion. Nonetheless, the MMA God’s had other plans, as Ferguson tore his fibular collateral ligament (LCL) the week of the fight, and was forced to withdraw.
Since the injury last April, which he rehabbed up to full health on his own, Ferguson has defeated former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis via TKO, in a fight which earned both athletes ‘Fight of the Night’ honors. With a win streak as incredible Ferguson’s, it sure does seem strange that he’s not the man featuring in the interim lightweight clash at UFC 236, so why isn’t he?
The real interim champion
The UFC recently held a press conference in Las Vegas promoting UFC 236, where UFC president Dana White revealed that “El Cucuy” in fact rejected the opportunity to fight for another interim title.
“Tony didn’t want the fight,” said White.
“It’s the fight I wanted [with Poirier]. We even tried to make the fight [with Holloway], and he didn’t want it. You can’t make anybody fight.”
There may be numerous, undisclosed reasons why the #1 ranked lightweight rejected this fight; however, its no secret that Ferguson’s last experience with an interim title was a lousy one.
In October 2017, Tony Ferguson submitted Kevin Lee to become the interim lightweight champion. This win certified Ferguson’s claim of being the best lightweight on the planet and set up a fight with current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. As we know, the 10th planet black belt picked up an injury and was forced to pull out of the fight. Along with this, the UFC brass decided to strip him of his title – a decision which remains controversial to this day. Due to his hard-earned title being taken away, it’s hard not to blame The Ultimate Fighter 13 winner for turning down another shot at the belt many believe he still owns.
Nowadays, we live in the era of “money fights” – fighters are constantly searching for the opportunity to rake in the most money against the most notable names, even if it means turning down a title fight. The man known for kick-starting this trend is none other than Conor McGregor.
From the moment Conor McGregor successfully captured the UFC lightweight championship, every other ranked lightweight verbally sparred with the new champion, including Ferguson.
You are a sad bastard, mate.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) March 5, 2018
After Ferguson seized the interim lightweight title in 2017, he proceeded to call out the former champion, including in his post-fight interview.
The chance of competing in a super fight with McGregor is a coherent reason why he may have rejected his latest fight proposal, and if the UFC is looking for a fight to clear up the division, look no further than Tony Ferguson vs. Conor McGregor; “El Cucuy” is searching for that deserved money fight, while “The Notorious” is eager to rebound from his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.