UFC shouldn't close the door on Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
UFC president Dana White hosts a press conference prior to the UFC 220 weigh-in at TD Garden on Jan. 19, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Getty Images)
UFC president Dana White hosts a press conference prior to the UFC 220 weigh-in at TD Garden on Jan. 19, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Getty Images)

The UFC booked Tony Ferguson to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov four times, because it believed it was a fight fans wanted to see and it had significance in its division.

Twice, though, Nurmagomedov pulled out because of injuries or illness, and twice it was Ferguson.

Ferguson is the most recent one to pull out, tearing his LCL and forcing him to miss Saturday’s main event at UFC 223 in Brooklyn.

The UFC salvaged the show by replacing Ferguson with featherweight champion Max Holloway, and declaring that the winner would be the outright lightweight champion. That means that Conor McGregor will be stripped of the lightweight title and that Ferguson will lose the interim belt he won when he defeated Kevin Lee last year.

UFC president Dana White said he’s done with booking Ferguson and Nurmagomedov, and it’s easy to understand why. It takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money to properly promote and market a fight of that magnitude. And, undoubtedly, ticket buyers would be cautious if the fight was ever put back together, with great justification considering the history of these two.

Why not, though, give it a shot again when Ferguson is healthy? Sooner or later, both of them are going to be healthy on the same day. Assuming Ferguson has no long-term health impacts from his surgery, they’ll both remain among the best lightweights in the world, and their fight will carry great significance. And the pairing of their styles will always make for an entertaining match.

White did the right thing when he booked them for UFC 223. He loaded the card with other highly attractive matches, giving himself a fallback position if the fight were canceled. The women’s strawweight rematch between champion Rose Namajunas and ex-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is of great interest. So, too, is the Michael Chiesa-Anthony Pettis fight, as well as the Paul Felder-Al Iaquinta match. And on the preliminary card, there are several excellent matches, including Karolina Kowalkiewicz-Felice Herrig.

Fans have been burned four times by the prospect of a Ferguson-Nurmagomedov bout, and there is plenty of justified skepticism among them.

But let’s fast forward to April 2019. Let’s say Nurmagomedov is the champion, or a top-two contender. Ferguson is healthy and ranked in the top five. Why not pair them again, given the excitement that was created on each previous occasion the fight was booked?

It would be a risk, to be sure, but at some point, the black cloud will dissipate and both of them will make it to the cage. If that happens, and the fight turns out the way so many expect, imagine the reaction. It’s going to be a historic bout if it even comes close to fulfilling its potential given the drama surrounding it.

The division is loaded, and there are plenty of great fights to be made at lightweight, so it’s not as if a Ferguson-Nurmagomedov fight is needed to save it. But it would be an entertaining addition, to be sure.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but count me among those who still wants to see this match. Sooner or later, the MMA gods will quit messing with us and allow these two superior athletes to get into the cage and compete against one another.

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