This past Saturday night inside T-Mobile Arena we got to witness a coming out party for the newest UFC superstar. Tony Ferguson (23-3) was absolutely masterful in his victory over Kevin Lee and after securing a 3rd round submission via triangle choke, he was awarded the UFC interim lightweight title. The “official” 155 lb strap sits comfortably around the waist of the promotion’s most celebrated fighter, Conor McGregor.
Though rumors have been circulating throughout the mixed martial arts community that a rubber-match between McGregor and Nate Diaz was all but assured, UFC President Dana White dismissed them as false. In fact, during the after fight press conference for UFC 216 White stated, “Nobody’s talked about Diaz. Diaz has never been talked about. That’s internet bull, Tony’s the interim champion, Conor’s the champion, that’s the fight that makes sense. It’s the fight that has to happen, it doesn’t ‘make sense,’ it’s the fight that has to happen.” And given the past history of both Dana White and the UFC, delivering the most in-demand bout is usually accomplished.
Rest assured McGregor has a lot of different options to ponder while taking a break after his blockbuster fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. McGregor was off to Ibiza for a much needed vacation immediately after, but according to White, the reigning lightweight champion is adamant about fighting again before the end of the year. Prior to Saturday’s impressive showing, I doubt Tony Ferguson was at the top of the list for possible opponents.
Don’t get me wrong, Ferguson is well-deserving and has been for quite some time. The trajectory of his career since his debut on The Ultimate Fighter has been extremely impressive. He is currently on a 10-fight winning streak which includes capturing bonuses for Knockout of the Night, Submission of the Night, Fight of the Night, and Performance of the Night on multiple occasions. More than anything else those bonuses reflect Ferguson’s a very fan friendly fighter who’s remained elite as the competition’s improved.
Also judging by the response from fans, fighters, and media alike, Ferguson has left very little doubt about whether he’s deserving of landing a mega-fight against McGregor. The newly crowned interim champion has literally changed the narrative with his impressive win this past weekend in Las Vegas. Ferguson has now shifted the conversation to whether McGregor is willing to take the risk that’s now required to be considered the “undisputed” UFC lightweight title holder. The ball is now in Conor’s court and the MMA world is patiently awaiting his decision.
Personally I agree 100% with Dana White, that this is the fight that has to happen if McGregor returns to mixed martial arts and has plans to continue building a legacy in the sport. Granted, there are plenty of opportunities with much less risk and plenty of upside for McGregor to choose from if he wants. And based on the challenges he’s taken on over the last 2 years, I doubt many would hold it against McGregor if he ends up choosing an easier out for his next bout.
Then again that hasn’t been Conor McGregor’s style and as the momentum for a showdown against Tony Ferguson intensifies, I believe it’ll eventually get made. I’d actually be very surprised based on all that I’ve heard from behind the scenes since the conclusion of UFC 216, if these two don’t meet up in the Octagon to decide who’s the man at 155.