With the UFC’s return to Brooklyn, N.Y., less than two weeks away, fans are waiting to watch one incredible fight among all others. Of course, that fight is the lightweight title showdown between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
UFC 223 features incredible fights from top to bottom, but it is hard to deny that the championship tilt between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov stands out the most. It’s not only a standout fight on this one card, but even compared to any bout we have already witnessed this year — and maybe even through all of last year, too.
Remember, these two were scheduled to fight several times before, but due to a series of injuries on both sides and weight-cutting issues for Nurmagomedov, the bout has been scrapped every time. However, there are more than enough reasons to believe that these two fighters will stand across from each other in the Octagon come April 7.
First, there are the corrections Nurmagomedov has made in his weight-cutting program. It has been stated multiple times that he has found a nutritionist to help him cut down to the 155-pound limit safely. We saw the evidence of this improvement at UFC 219 when “The Eagle” fought Edson Barboza. The undefeated Russian was able to make weight comfortably. Of course, this time around it’s a title fight, which means Nurmagomedov will have to cut that extra half pound he didn’t have to cut last time, but it’s unlikely that this will be detrimental to his weight cut.
We also can’t forget that the title is on the line here, finally. Sure, the interim title was on the line back when these two men were scheduled to compete at UFC 209, but the interim strap does not hold the same weight as a bout where the undisputed belt is up for grabs. Conor McGregor is still the official lightweight champion, but it is expected that UFC President Dana White will follow through on his promise to strip the Irishman of his title and hand the belt to the winner of this scrap between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov.
Let’s stop worrying about the what-if’s. It’s time to start focusing on the importance of this fight and what it will mean to the entire division.
This is an excellent fight for multiple reasons, and one that can sell on purely the fighters’ status and history, rather than trash-talking and build-up. Ferguson is the current interim lightweight champion (though some consider him the real champion). He has won 10 straight fights. In that run, he’s defeated some major names like of the aforementioned Barboza, Rafael dos Anjos and, most recently, Kevin Lee. Nurmagomedov is 25-0. The Russian remains the only person with an undefeated mark while residing in the upper tiers of the UFC. Every time he wins, he does it in the most dominant fashion possible.
The biggest question for this fight is quite obvious: Can Ferguson handle Nurmagomedov’s grappling?
They are both excellent grapplers. Not much needs to be said for Nurmagomedov. The performances speak for themselves. He “mauls” people, as UFC color commentator Joe Rogan likes to say often. Every time we have seen Nurmagomedov inside of the Octagon, he has been able to get a hold of his opponent in a way that we have never seen before and beat them down in the most brutal fashion possible. However, Ferguson is not one to be intimidated by someone’s grappling. He’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Eddie Bravo at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, and six of his wins during his current streak came by way of submission. Time and time again, Ferguson has demonstrated his versatility in grappling while submitting people from different positions. He’s not only utilized his trademark D’arce choke, but triangle chokes and rear-naked chokes as well. It’s a good bet that’s not all he has, either.
So, who has the edge in grappling? Can Nurmagomedov really do to Ferguson what he was able to do to everyone else?
More food for thought: what does this fight look like when it gets into the latter rounds?
So far, from what we have seen, Ferguson is likely to have the advantage once the fight goes past the third round. We’ve seen Nurmagomedov keep his pace up for three rounds on multiple occasions, but can he do it for two more rounds? What about two more rounds against someone like Ferguson, who never tires? Ferguson went hard for five rounds against dos Anjos in Mexico City for an eye-opening performance. Given the altitude, the way Ferguson looked for five rounds straight was something else. Can Nurmagomedov handle that?
There are plenty of intriguing questions surrounding this fight, but that’s what a great fight looks like. This bout most definitely has the potential to become the best fight of the year. There are some great fights lined up for the rest of the year already, including the rematch between Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jędrzejczyk, the rematch between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero, and the anticipated heavyweight clash between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier. Yet, a fight doesn’t get much bigger than the one between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov.
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