UFC 209: Tony Ferguson Looks to Shake Up Global Plans

Tony Ferguson isn’t the opponent many people pegged next for McGregor, but with a win at UFC 209 he could get one of the biggest fights in 2017.

Tony Ferguson is in a unique spot for UFC 209.  After all the turmoil to get agreements together, “El Cucuy” looked to be the least likely to participate and now finds himself with the most to gain from the situation.  With a victory over Khabib Nurmagomedov, Ferguson will gain the interim lightweight title and lock in a date with the biggest star in mixed martial arts in Conor McGregor.

Ferguson has been in the UFC since 2011 and has gone an impressive 12-1 in that span.  Despite the hard work to arrive at this point, the final hurdle was the most difficult as it appeared that a different deal would get done in the absence of “The Notorious” from competition.

One of the biggest issues in Saturday’s co-main event was a contract negotiation for Ferguson.  Ahead of the bout, Ferguson demanded more money prior to agreeing to a fight with Nurmagomedov.  As talks seemed to stall, other options were explored.  Most notably, there was discussion of featherweight champion José Aldo moving up to face “The Eagle” as he pursued his much-desired rematch with McGregor.

Eventually, the deal was done and Ferguson will face Nurmagomedov in what is widely seen as a fight between the consensus number two and three fighters in the division.  For “El Cucuy” the fight comes with the added pressure as Nurmagomedov is being seen as the catalyst for the UFC’s plans going forward. The promotion looks to debut in Russia in the near future and a bout between “The Eagle” and McGregor in the country is regarded as one of the best fights to make.  They are two surging European fighters currently on the roster and the prospect of an Ireland vs. Russia type of bout looks to draw huge numbers.

Ferguson is a top contender in his own right, but he is simply not the fighter who is about to open a new market for the UFC.  Outside the cage, “El Cucuy” has had to change the perception of him from being the “villain” of his season of The Ultimate Fighter to being judged purely on his UFC results.  That said, he has a chance to raise his profile immensely if he can dispatch both Nurmagomedov and McGregor in 2017.

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Stylistically, he presents several tactical issues for the Russian.  He is the taller athlete with better striking, first and foremost.  But, it’s been his consistent takedown defense that will be crucial in the contest.

Against Nurmagomedov, Ferguson will have to face arguably the best grappler in the lighter weight classes.  The grappling prowess of “The Eagle” has carried him to a perfect 24-0 record, including eight in the UFC.

There are two huge questions for Ferguson: Can he stifle the takedowns of Nurmagomedov and can he deliver enough damage while on the feet? Barring a shocking turn of events, it’s unexpected the Ferguson wins a prolonged battle with “The Eagle” on the mat.

Assuming Ferguson does not finish his opponent early, the key for him will be to spend as little time on the mat as possible.  Nurmagomedov is far from a fluid striker and “El Cucuy” should look to push the pace and make his opponent weary of trying to close the distance.  Should the fight go to the ground, it’s imperative that Ferguson focuses on tying up Nurmagomedov to avoid absorbing damage and forcing the fight to the feet.  While he is a competent grappler in his own right, the risk is high against a fighter like Khabib of getting caught with a submission during a scramble so it important to not rush when attempting to escape back to the feet.

Of the current prospects for a bout with McGregor, Ferguson is by far the least appealing.  However, as the Irishman was relieved of the featherweight title, his next fight looks to be at 155 and a victory for “El Cucuy” would put him in as a headliner of one of the biggest cards of the year.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of hurdles for before a fight between McGregor and boxer Floyd Mayweather should be considered seriously.  As such, this fight should be treated with great interest for those awaiting the next move of the biggest star in MMA.  Ferguson reached this bout almost in spite of himself, and he’s displayed that he’s fully capable of winning the world title as well.