Tony Ferguson now has the interim lightweight title, but will he ever get the chance to unify it against Conor McGregor?
Leading up to UFC 216, you get the feeling the UFC was walking a bit of a tightrope. They obviously wanted to hype up their interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee, and the best way to do that would be tease the eventual unification of said title with Conor McGregor’s lightweight belt. But they didn’t want to box themselves in and look foolish committing a ton of airtime to the claim that the winner would face McGregor, because Conor does what Conor wants to do, when he wants to do it.
McGregor has paid some lip service to defending his belt, but it’s not clear what he thinks of Ferguson’s performance. As of this writing, the last tweet he made was a Bud Light sponsorship pump earlier on Saturday. If I had to take a guess, he probably saw how hittable Ferguson was looking before Lee got tired and doesn’t consider “El Cucuy” much of a challenge. Whether that makes McGregor more or less likely to step into the cage to defend against him is unclear.
But to those that say McGregor vs. Diaz 3 is undoubtedly next, don’t forget: the UFC would have to reach an agreement with Nate Diaz on that first. Conor McGregor had to scream at Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta on the phone to push the second fight through, but he needed that to win back his mojo. Now he seems more laid back about the fight, and spent a chunk of his latest ‘Evening With Conor McGregor’ event suggesting alternative possibilities in the likely event of Diaz demanding a bigger piece of the pie.
“If he starts pricing himself out of an event, I probably will defend against the person who wins this interim belt,” he said. “Or someone along that line to legitimize it again.”
UFC president Dana White made it clear that McGregor vs. Ferguson is the fight to make. Now let’s see if he can make it.
The Greatest Champion In UFC History
While people continue to debate whether Demetrious Johnson deserves GOAT status or not, he can now objectively say he’s the greatest champion in UFC history. No one has defended their belt as many times as him. Six more wins, and he doesn’t just put some padding on the record that will give it some Roger Maris longevity. He surpasses another one of Anderson Silva’s records: the longest win streak in the UFC, currently sitting at 16.
That may be harder than it sounds, even with Johnson coming into fights a -700 favorite against the #3 guy in his division. He’s no longer just the king of the flyweights. His GOAT cred is pretty legit so long as Jon Jones keeps being a DOPE. He’s now the champion of all champions. That’s going to draw more attention from the bantamweights above him, guys like Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw.
There’s no sign “Mighty Mouse” is interested in moving up, but they’re going to come down to him now that he’s got prestige worth taking. It should make for an interesting 2018 at 125 pounds, and finally win Demetrious the respect he still can’t seem to earn from some fans, even with that insane slam to armbar combo.
The Power Of The Mic
Remember at the end of the pay-per-view when Daniel Cormier got oddly specific about Conor McGregor fighting Nate Diaz while Tony Ferguson fights Khabib Nurmagomedov? Joe Rogan pointed out that Khabib hasn’t fought in a year and may not be able to hit 155 without his organs shutting down. Never mind the unspoken #1 bulls**t of interim champ Ferguson beating Lee and then having to face an inactive Khabib.
It all makes more sense though when you realize Cormier is teammates with Khabib over at AKA, and he just used his position on the mic to try and shape reality for his friend. If he manages to kick off some demand for Nurmagomedov to get next if McGregor passes on Ferguson, there’s a good chance the UFC will roll with it. You know how they love a pre-cooked match up. And it looks like Cormier is more than happy to hype it up on every platform he has.
It’s kind of crazy. We’re used to the UFC pushing their agenda during broadcasts and their ‘news’ shows, and fighters have been doing whatever it takes to stir their own pots. But have we ever seen one of the UFC’s official commentators carrying water like this for their friends? Now that’s what I call teamwork.
I did something a bit different on Saturday night: I skipped the majority of the prelims and tuned into the card around 9PM EST just in time for the Lando Vannata vs. Bobby Green fight. And you know what? It was great. I enjoyed the whole event much more. I blinked and suddenly we were at the title fights (no doubt aided by the quick first round finishes in two of the main card fights).
I ended the evening feeling tired (I’m old) but not exhausted. This isn’t a knock on the quality of prelim fights … often they outshine the main card. But it proves to me that there can indeed be too much of a good thing. For UFC fights, I peg the threshold at four hours.