A lightweight bout between interim champ Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov looks set for UFC 223. But will it be for the undisputed title?
On Wednesday’s Toucher and Rich show in Boston, UFC President Dana White confirmed that Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov will happen. The show covered a range of topics, from White butting heads in a business sense with heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic to NFL players training in mixed martial arts. Yet the biggest topic by far was Conor McGregor. You can listen to the segment here.
“He can’t hold the title, he can’t hold up the division” White said of UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. “There’s a lot of guys that I have to deal with every day, that aren’t worth the aggravation. This kid is worth the aggravation, and I have so much respect for him, for what he’s accomplished and what he’s done.”
“If he wants to ride off into the sunset with his money for the rest of his life, I don’t blame him” White continued. “And if he wants to come back and fight, we’ll get him back in, he just can’t hold the division hostage for almost two years.”
When questioned on how you handle the situation, White answered “You take the belt.”
“In any sport, like the NBA, NFL, hockey whatever it might be, no one guy can hold the whole sport hostage” White explained. “It just doesn’t happen. When Conor was getting ready for this Mayweather fight, I’m already making plans for Conor to never come back. The company and the business goes on. There will be other stars. The NBA didn’t pack it up when Jordan left, and they won’t when Lebron left.”
Of course, the NBA being a league with multiple stars and fans backing their local teams, it doesn’t face the drought the UFC does with no heir apparent to McGregor in the wings. That said, the more White talks about stripping McGregor, the more likely it seems. While he did not confirm the belt would be taken, he did confirm that interim champion Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov would be happening.
“Yes. That fight is going to happen. Yes, that fight will happen” White said when asked about the pair. The show later tweeted that White had confirmed the event and location for the bout: UFC 223 in Brooklyn.
Dana White on our show confirmed that Khabib vs. Ferguson is indeed on for UFC 223 in Brooklyn. #UFC
— Toucher and Rich (@Toucherandrich) January 17, 2018
While not official, it certainly seems as if the UFC is leaning towards making that fight for the undisputed title. Earlier in the week, Russian website tass.ru reported that the bout was in the works, with an announcement expected at UFC 220 this weekend. Per that report, “Russian mixed martial arts combatant Khabib Nurmagamedov and American Tony Ferguson, participating in UFC, will have a title match on the 7th of April in New York. TACC has gathered this information from a source close to the situation.” It added that “there is a contract written for the match” and that it would be contested with the full (undisputed) title on the line.
McGregor has not fought in the UFC since winning the 155lb title from Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in New York City back in November 2016. Since then, his only combat sports appearance was in the ‘Money Fight’ against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August. McGregor was TKO’d in the 10th round by the boxing legend.
Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov was scheduled to take place last year, at UFC 209 in March. However, Nurmagomedov suffered complications from his weight cut and was rushed to hospital. Ferguson (23–3) would go on to face Kevin Lee for the interim lightweight title at UFC 216 in October. Nurmagomedov (25-0), meanwhile, returned at UFC 219 in December, where he walked through Brazilian striker Edson Barboza.
Translation by Julia Gayvoronskaya, Cageside Press.