Ever since UFC 229, the number one question fans and media have been asking is, “Who’s next for Khabib Nurmagomedov?” The undefeated Russian tapped out Conor McGregor in the main event of the UFC’s biggest-selling pay-per-view ever earlier this month, and at this point we are all still wondering who is the next opponent for Nurmagomedov, though we may have been given a hint to who it is over the weekend.
According to UFC president Dana White, the UFC is not angling for a rematch with Nurmagomedov against McGregor. Instead, the promotion wants to book Nurmagomedov against Tony Ferguson, who TKOed Anthony Pettis at UFC 229 to extend his winning streak to 11 straight fights. Ferguson, who was stripped of the interim lightweight belt earlier this year after getting injured during a pre-fight interview prior to UFC 223, should absolutely get the title shot based on merit. But we all know that money talks in this sport, and that’s why McGregor has even been included in the conversation.
Ferguson’s 14-1 record in the UFC (17-1 if you include his run on TUF 13) is absolutely exceptional. He has only lost once in the UFC, to Michael Johnson back in 2012 in a fight where he broke his arm. He hasn’t lost since then, and has finished high-profile opponents including Pettis, Edson Barboza and Kevin Lee, as well as a decision win over former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Ferguson is as deserving of a title shot as anyone in the 155lbs division right now, and it would be a shame if he did not get the next title shot as McGregor does not deserve it at all.
The only reason we are even talking about this is because of what happened after UFC 229 was over. The fight between Nurmagomedov and McGregor was a mismatch for the most part as the Russian used his vaunted wrestling chops to take the Irishman down and dominate him on the mat for nearly 20 minutes before getting the tapout late in the fourth. But with Nurmagomedov jumping into the crowd and attacking McGregor’s cornermen, and the ruckus it set off, that’s the reason why anyone is even giving McGregor a chance to get the rematch. Obviously, UFC 229 did exceptionally well on PPV and a rematch would likely do great numbers as well, but the UFC would be toeing a very dangerous line between sport and entertainment if they didn’t give Ferguson the title shot after winning 11 fights in a row.
Of course, there’s the “jinx” factor we have to consider as the fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson has been cancelled three times already due to both men pulling out for various reasons. That’s the main reason why some are afraid to book the fight again. In my opinion, this isn’t a valid reason not to make the fight again. That’s just a stroke of bad luck, and there’s no reason to think just because this fight hasn’t gone through a few times before that it won’t this time. The UFC needs to book the fight again and take a shot that nothing will happen to either competitor.
While I enjoyed watching Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor, and while I would be open to a potential rematch down the road, I can’t help but think how compelling a fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson would be. These are the two best lightweights in the world right now and both are coming off of spectacular wins at UFC 229 that should pit them against each other. McGregor, as great as he is, can wait. Ferguson deserves the title shot, and Nurmagomedov should have to fight him next and not threaten to box Floyd Mayweather. Of course, we still need to wait to see what Nurmagomedov’s punishment from the Nevada State Athletic Commission will be, but when it comes out, Ferguson should be announced as the next opponent when Nurmagomedov is ready to return.