Shortly after Tony Ferguson's Interim 155-lb title win over Kevin Lee, the attention of the world of MMA turned to one man: the UFC Lightweight Champion - Conor McGregor. The first question that comes with the recent turn of events is: Why SHOULDN'T Tony Ferguson get the title shot?
With the looseness that the UFC places on the status of the interim belt, and their recent tendency to place priority on money fights, many are skeptical that Conor will take this match over the potential Nate Diaz trilogy superfight. However there is a potential here for the UFC to make a major move in re-legitimizing the interim belt, and their titles altogether.
If they make the title unification bout between 'The Notorious' and 'El Cucuy', not only would they silence critics by giving Conor his first title defense, they would show that titles do take some priority over money fights, because a Conor vs. Ferguson wouldn't draw as much as Conor vs. Diaz 3. A counterclaim could be that either way, McGregor is the biggest draw in the company and the title fight is a good move. But there is still a large gap in the potential draw no doubt, take this into perspective.
According to Tapology.com, McGregor vs. Diaz 2 did 1.6 million pay-per-view buys, and McGregor's title bout with Eddie Alvarez just a couple months later, the fight where he won the Lightweight title, got 1.3 million. 300,000 less is a number you can't ignore. Diaz and McGregor just flat out sell. Add that with the fact that this is a rubber match and could even be for the Lightweight title? This fight is a huge option for the UFC. But some of what transpired at the post fight press conference would suggest otherwise.
"Tony's the interim champion, Conor's the champion, that's the fight that makes sense,"... It's the fight that has to happen." Dana White said at the UFC 216 press conference. While he has gone back on his word (to say the least) in the past, this could be an indicator that the UFC has had its eyes set on the title unification fight between Ferguson and McGregor. "Nobody's talked about Diaz...Diaz has never been talked about," White also said. "That's internet bull****."
Even if it does make the most sense, many doubt that 'El Cucuy' is up to the challenge. Critics have said that Tony's fighting style leaves him open to the vaunted left hand of McGregor. That he relies on his chin too much, and if he does so with Conor, then it won't end well.
However people should give Tony Ferguson more credit, he is one of the most overall skilled fighters in the Octagon. He's been in the UFC facing top lightweights since his TUF win over Ramsey Nijem, and has beaten top level competition such as Yves Edwards, Edson Barboza, Rafael Dos Anjos, and most recently, highly skilled young up and comer Kevin Lee.
He is also a dangerous striker, a skilled 10th planet Jiu-Jitsu expert, and has a 10 fight win streak in the UFC Lightweight division. 7 of those 10 wins being finishes. 'El Cucuy' is nothing short of dangerous. People also underestimate his trash talking skills. He is very entertaining and can do more than just 'promote himself'. Here are a couple excerpts from his interview with Ariel Helwani on the MMA hour on October 9th, two days after winning the Interim Belt:
I've wrestled them all, I've fought them all, and Conor is not different than any other man or human being in this world. The man wants to call himself a god, but he bleeds, so I can expose him as well. I guarantee you, there's no big animosity there, but the callout was real and it was genuine."…I really want to kick this dude's ass because I believe that my skills are better. I guarantee you that I'd be a better champ and I would defend the belt. He defends the belt zero times. Zero times. He won it, he talked his way into this sh*t, and my management knows exactly where I stand with this, and I don't stand for that kind of sh*t. I'm here right now putting numbers behind it, the same way that I made them take me into The Ultimate Fighter.by Author
On top of that, Tony has 3 fight of the night bonuses, and 3 performance of the night bonuses, including one KO of the night, and 1 submission of the night. The man is flat out entertaining.
Even UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping stated that he thinks that Ferguson would be a "tougher fight" for McGregor than Diaz was. But the only thing that is left to be seen is Ferguson's toughness against the left hand of McGregor. Will Tony Ferguson's unorthodox style, ground prowess, and unpredictability be enough to win him the undisputed Lightweight championship?
Or will Conor McGregor use his left hand and entire striking arsenal to show once again why he is one of the best and bring back his first title defense to Ireland? Although only time will tell whether we get to see this match-up soon, if at all, the speculation around who would win and how can go in all sorts of different directions. Despite the draw to a massive money fight with Diaz, it is most every MMA fans' hope that this fight will come into fruition.