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LAS VEGAS – It seemed somehow appropriate that after Tony Ferguson‘s work off his back netted him a submission victory over Kevin Lee and the UFC interim lightweight title that went with it, he celebrated by placing his new belt in the middle of the cage at T-Mobile Arena, dropping to his back and spinning on the ground in exultation.
Ferguson won his 10th in a row and set himself up for a big-money fight with champion Conor McGregor by catching Lee in a triangle choke and finishing him at 4:02 of the third.
Ferguson ended the first on his back but it wasn’t in such a good situation. Lee was on top and was raining punches down on him. After the bell sounded, a fired-up Lee blasted Ferguson with another one for good measure.
Ferguson, though, never lost his cool. He knew that Lee was going to have difficulty going five rounds after his tough weight cut. Lee said he had to cut 19 pounds from Thursday to Friday, and missed weight on his first attempt. He made it after another hour but looked terrible.
Ferguson knew that Lee, who was swinging for the fences with every punch, would eventually wear out.
He clearly slowed in the second and though he had a few takedowns in the third, Ferguson was fine. He first had Lee in an arm bar, but Lee worked out.
But Ferguson calmly transitioned to the triangle choke and ultimately forced Lee to tap.
That led to a delirious celebration and the realization that a fight with McGregor, the money man of the sport, could now be in the cards. And if the crowd wasn’t aware, Ferguson immediately reminded them in the cage when UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan asked about the Irishman.
“Where you at McGregor, you [expletive] piece of [expletive],” Ferguson roared as the crowd cheered him on. “I’ll kick your ass.”
McGregor hasn’t announced his plans yet and there is a better-than-average chance that if he chooses to compete in MMA again after making roughly $100 million for his Aug. 26 loss to Floyd Mayweather in boxing, he’ll probably face Nate Diaz in a rubber match.
But McGregor hasn’t defended a title in his nearly two years as a UFC champion and unless he gives it up to chase another belt, he’ll have to deal with Ferguson sooner or later.
Lee thought it was going to be him, but he had too much going against him. The weight cut, made more difficult by a staph infection, clearly drained him. And Ferguson’s experience was also an issue.
“I had to fight through it,” Lee said of the staph infection. “I came in here and gave it my best shot.”
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