UFC: With Khabib vs. Ferguson, We’ve Been Down this Road Before

Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson before one of their several scheduled encounters. Credit: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog

As the MMA world hopes that the fifth scheduled meeting between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson will be the one to finally materialize, we look back at the history of their scheduled encounters.

The pieces have all aligned once again for two of the most dominant forces in the history of the lightweight division to collide for supremacy.  Khabib Nurmagomedov, fresh off a dominant performance over Dustin Poirier at UFC 242, has now completed his part of the bargain.  Tony Ferguson, with a huge performance over Donald Cerrone, punched his ticket to the encounter back in June.  As the MMA world hopes that a fight will finally materialize, let’s look back at the history and their four previously scheduled encounters.

The first time the two were set to meet was in December of 2015 at the The Ultimate Fighter: Team McGregor vs Team Faber finale.  At the time, Nurmagomedov was attempting to come back from a persistent knee injury that had already kept him out of action for nearly a year at the time. At 6-0 in the UFC, the fight was expected to be the one that pushed him into the title contention.  Ferguson was on a parallel path riding a six fight win-streak.  A little more than a month out, Nurmagomedov pulled out of the fight with another injury.  Ferguson would go on to have one of the most exciting performances of his career, stopping replacement opponent Edson Barboza in a firefight that took home Fight of the Night honors.

The two were scheduled again immediately afterward for April of 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  It would now be two years since Nurmagomedov had stepped into the cage and Ferguson had the momentum after his previous victory.  However, it would be “El Cucuy” who pulled out this time, citing a lung issue eleven days out from the fight.  Nurmagomedov would take a short-notice replacement, throttling Darrell Horcher and propelling himself forward.

After back-to-back attempts that failed to come to fruition, the two moved on.  At the time, lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos would end up falling to Eddie Alvarez in July of 2016.  Several months later, Conor McGregor would claim the lightweight title and become the first two-division champion in UFC history.

Ferguson would accumulate two more victories, over former champion dos Anjos and Lando Vannata.  Nurmagomedov would add Michael Johnson to his resume.  As the lightweight division awaited McGregor to return from his boxing venture against Floyd Mayweather, the two were again booked, this time for UFC 209 in March of 2017 with the interim title on the line.  Never had their collision had higher stakes.

This would also be where the notion of the fight being cursed took off.

The Friday before the fight, hours before the weigh-in, Nurmagomedov would experience health issues that forced him out of the fight.  Ferguson would not return until several months later, taking on Kevin Lee for the interim title at UFC 216 in October.  Ferguson would stop Lee in the third round.  Nurmagomedov, who Dana White said was “not ready” for the October date, would return two months later with a throttling performance against Edson Barboza at UFC 219 to reassert himself in the title picture.

This would set up their fourth scheduled pairing at UFC 223 in April of 2018.  After so much turmoil, it seemed statistically impossible that something could happen to the fight again.  It was simple: the two would finally battle for ultimate supremacy and the winner would go on to a pay-per-view mega-fight with Conor McGregor later in the year.

Six days out from the fight, Ferguson tore apart his knee in a fall during a media appearance.  Taking place on April 1st, the situation was so unbelievable that the MMA world had to be reassured that it was not an April Fools Joke.  It would kick off the sequence of events of arguably the most memorable fight week in MMA history.  Nurmagomedov was booked against a late replacement in featherweight champion Max Holloway, a fight that would not happen as the commission declared at weigh-ins that Holloway was unfit for the five round contest.  “The Eagle” would instead fight Al Iaquinta, although not before McGregor would steal headlines again with the now infamous dolly incident.

More than a year since their last scheduled encounter, the pieces have all aligned for another collision.  Something to note, throughout every cancelled fight, neither man has suffered a loss inside the cage.  The two are also currently tied for the longest win-streak in the lightweight division with 12 victories a piece.  They are each considered the greatest threat to the other, and a victory would place the winner alone at the top of the division.

Now, will it finally happen….