It’s the single most-anticipated pairing fans and pundits alike have clamoured for since both began their respective rises to lightweight stardom. Paired on five separate occasions, Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov and Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson have never stood opposite each other come fight night in the UFC’s Octagon.
At UFC 249 earlier this year, the two were matched once more – with undisputed lightweight gold up for grabs. It seemed like none of the prior failed matchups mattered really in the grand scheme of things with the two seemingly at the peaks of their power respectively. Fast forward to May in Jacksonville, Florida – Khabib is forced from the headliner due to miss-communications with the promotion and travel restrictions imposed amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In his place steps Dominance MMA stablemate, Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje who clashes with Ferguson – with the latter attempting to score interim 155-pound spoils for the second time in his lengthy Octagon stint. Beyond a counter uppercut knockdown in the early goings of the event’s headliner, Ferguson offered very little in terms of worrying offence for a newly composed and calculated Gaethje – who found the mark time and time again.
Scoring an eventual fifth-round finish on the feet, Gaethje quashed any potential of a sixth go-around for Khabib vs. Ferguson for the time being – instating himself into a bracket opposite the undefeated Dagestani instead.
Next weekend in Abu Dhabi, UAE – Khabib attempts to unify the lightweight crown once again as he meets with the streaking, Gaethje – in a challenger slot which could’ve been occupied by the above mentioned, Ferguson as recent as March this annum.
Speaking with ESPN MMA reporter, Brett Okamoto recently – Khabib gave his thoughts on Ferguson’s future – one he doesn’t consider quite prosperous – as well as the worrying level of punishment he endured in his short-notice battle with soon to be common-foe, Gaethje.
“Honestly, I feel a little bit bad (for Tony Ferguson),” Khabib said. “And at the same time I understand, nobody can be the same (for a) long time, nobody. No Tony Ferguson, no Khabib, nobody. And one day, someone gonna beat you or something gonna happen, you know. God don’t (sic) give to nobody, like power, like reactions, mental or everything in one level always, one day it’s going to go down, you know. And his day come (sic) and it was April? May, yes.”
“I understand it’s like, Tony Ferguson’s time is finished,” Khabib explained. “Now, he’s gonna come back and somebody’s gonna beat him again I believe. Because when you take damage like this, you never gonna be same (sic). Never, never ever – even if you’re Tony Ferguson. He takes too much damage. You see how he tap, you see how he give up at the end of the five rounds?”
The devastating defeat marked the snapping of a division tying twelve-fight winning streak for Ferguson – who had scored recent victories over the likes of Anthony Pettis, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, and an interim title win over Kevin Lee.
Linked with an Octagon return in the last number of weeks – the promotion was targeting a potential title eliminator between Ferguson and Dustin Poirier for the co-main event of UFC 254 next weekend – with the promotion and the latter failing to come to terms on a deal.