Two past injuries have derailed Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov from facing each other inside the Octagon but now the highly anticipated lightweight showdown is only three days away.
Ferguson is currently riding a nine-fight win streak while rocketing up the lightweight rankings while Nurmagomedov is undefeated with a perfect 24-0 record including eight victories in his UFC career.
To add to the drama, the UFC has even made this matchup an interim title fight with the winner walking out with a championship belt around their waist.
All that adds up to the feeling of a headline fight but the interim title bout currently occupies the co-main event slot at UFC 209 although Ferguson argues adamantly that his matchup with Nurmagomedov is truly the one everybody is most excited to see.
“We’re the co-main event but we’re the real main event, baby,” Ferguson said on Wednesday. “I don’t care what anybody says.”
Ferguson actually staked his claim to that idea last week during the UFC 209 media conference call, which earned him a response from welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Woodley is fighting in the main event on Saturday night in a rematch against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and he had no problem reminding Ferguson why he’s earned the top spot on the card.
“Because I’m a world-champion and you’re not,” Woodley said. “That’s why it’s the main event.”
At the time, Ferguson didn’t say anything back to Woodley but he responded during the UFC 209 open workouts while hinting that he might even go to welterweight one day to hash things out with the current champion.
“I heard [Woodley] fired back but you know what, he better watch out because I won “The Ultimate Fighter” at 170 [pounds],” Ferguson said.
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As much as Ferguson might be hinting at a future at welterweight, make no mistake his focus is locked in on Nurmagomedov and a rivalry that stretches back nearly two years from the first time they were scheduled to meet.
The two lightweight contenders have sparred in interviews, through social media and even got into a heated exchange during that same conference call last week. Despite all of that, Ferguson says he still has a lot of respect for Nurmagomedov as a fighter, but that all disappears once they step into the cage together on Saturday night.
“You can love somebody without liking them. I love Khabib. He’s my brother in arms, we’re all here, we’re all for one. I’ve got peace with him but inside there we’ve got beef,” Ferguson said. “We’ve got to squash this [expletive]. I’m tired of him. He’s a bully. I’m going to shut him up. I’ve got respect for him, his father and his whole camp.”
If there’s one other subject that Ferguson can’t escape in the days leading towards his fight with Nurmagomedov it’s the looming question about an eventual showdown with current lightweight champion Conor McGregor.
Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are competing for an interim title while McGregor is on the sidelines awaiting the birth of his first child while also negotiating for a potential showdown with retired boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather.
At this point, Ferguson isn’t even concerned about McGregor and whether or not he ever returns to the Octagon. And as far as the title goes, Ferguson doesn’t care if his belt says interim or not — he knows he’ll be the real champion when he beats the No. 1 ranked contender at UFC 209.
“You know what, I gave Conor a pass. I’ll keep reiterating that, I gave him a pass. He got a pass from me,” Ferguson said. “I told him go spend some of that money, go do what you’re going to do, enjoy your new kid, trust me I worked my ass off, I take a blue collar approach. I don’t have to talk the talk, I walk the [expletive] walk. So as far as Conor goes and the belt, that dude is just so far out there, I hope he gets it in his head and comes back to the real time. This is where we’re at.
“This belt, I consider it the real belt. Regardless of whether it’s interim or not. If I can hold it and I can feel it and it’s [expletive] shiny as [expletive], it’s real enough for me.”