UFC plans Tony Ferguson-Khabib Nurmagomedov title fight; Conor McGregor would be stripped
The UFC lightweight division is just about ready to move on without Conor McGregor.
UFC President Dana White said tonight on FS1’s UFC Fight Night 124 post show that the lightweight champion is shooting for a September return, adding that the promotion is currently “working on” a fight between interim titleholder Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Two people with knowledge of the situation tell MMAjunkie that Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov could happen at either UFC 222 on March 3 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas or the planned UFC 223 event slated for April 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Assuming McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) doesn’t return until the fall, White said he would be stripped of the title, meaning Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) and Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) would fight for the undisputed championship.
White echoed a similar sentiment earlier in the night while speaking to MMAjunkie backstage at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
“I want Conor to start training again and come back and defend his title. … We haven’t committed to a time yet, but as long as Conor wants to fight still, Conor and I always get it done,” White said. “You know how Conor is. Conor wants to do things on his time and when he wants to do it. That’s fine. I always say I respect the kid so much for what he accomplished and what he’s brought, but if he’s not ready to go – the belt, I think he wants to come back in September. That’ll be almost two years, and that’s just not fair to the rest of the guys in the division. Let these guys fights, and when Conor decides to come back, and if he decides to come back, then he would get the first crack at the title.”
If Ferguson-Nurmagomedov is booked for UFC 222, that would add a second title fight to the card. Champ Max Holloway is set to defend his featherweight title vs. Frankie Edgar in the current headliner.
Ferguson and Nurmagomedov have been booked against each other three times before without a fight materializing. After each pulled out of one scheduled bout due to injury, Ferguson, No. 2 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA lightweight rankings, and No. 3 Nurmagomedov were most recently signed to fight each other at UFC 209 last March. The fight for the then-vacant interim title fell apart on weigh-in day, though, when Nurmagomedov was hospitalized after a failed weight cut.
In the meantime, Nurmagomedov made a successful return to the octagon Dec. 30 at UFC 219. He brutalized Edson Barboza for a lopsided unanimous decision, giving him a 25th consecutive victory on his unblemished record.
In the weeks since the fight, Nurmagomedov has engaged in some social media warfare with “The Notorious.” The Russian has said he believes he could beat McGregor and Ferguson in the same night but would rather fight Ferguson, because he believes him to be the best lightweight other than himself.
Ferguson has been pestering McGregor to “defend or vacate” for much of the past year. The Irishman hasn’t competed in MMA since claiming the belt with a second-round knockout of Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November 2016.
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