By Mike Bohn |
May 5, 2020 8:00 pm
Tony Ferguson is looking at UFC 249 as his chance to add another title defense to his resume, not claim a second interim belt.
Ferguson (25-3 MMA, 15-1 UFC) is adamant that Saturday’s main event with Justin Gaethje determines the top player in the UFC lightweight division. Khabib Nurmagomedov may technically hold that status as undisputed champion, but “El Cucuy” protests that notion after his rival was forced to withdraw from UFC 249 due to travel restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
“(Expletive) Khabib,” Ferguson told reporters on Tuesday’s UFC 249 conference call. “I’m defending my belt for the third time. This is for the real belt, this is not for an interim title. This is for the real championship (expletive). It’s champ (expletive) only, buddy.”
The main event between Ferguson and Gaethje (21-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) is officially for the interim 155-pound belt, but Ferguson already achieved that status once before when he submitted Kevin Lee at UFC 216 in October 2017. Ferguson was eventually stripped of that interim belt when an injury forced him out of an April 2018 matchup with Nurmagomedov, but he’s won several fights since then.
Ferguson has never been hesitant to raise issues with how the situation unfolded, and after Nurmagomedov had to withdraw from the originally scheduled April 18 date for UFC 249, which opened the door for Gaethje to take his place, Ferguson felt his stance was validated.
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The history books will show a different tale, though, and Ferguson will have to get past Gaethje, then unify with Nurmagomedov, to remove any doubt.
Ferguson is entrenched in his “(expletive) Khabib” position, though, and said “The Eagle” should retire from MMA. Gaethje, meanwhile, offered a more realistic view going into UFC 249.
“The interim belt means for me that you’ll be recognized as the No. 2 man in the world,” Gaethje said. “Khabib can’t fight right now, so these are the two baddest man in the weight class fighting this weekend for the right to call themselves the best then ultimately challenge Khabib. I think we’re fighting for the opportunity to represent America against Khabib. That’s what I’m fighting for.”
UFC 249 takes place at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., with a main card scheduled to air on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.
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