Khabib Nurmagomedov has looked almost unbeatable since arriving in the UFC, but could Tony Ferguson be the man to end the Russian’s dominance of the lightweight scene by dethroning the unbeaten champion in the main event of UFC 249 on April 18?
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Tony Ferguson UFC 249 Tips
Road To UFC 249: Khabib Nurmagomedov v Tony Ferguson
This bout feels like it has been a lifetime in the making, and so it should because the UFC has put this fight together four times in the past, only for plans to fall apart before fight night! Injury forced Khabib to withdraw from a December 2015 bout before Ferguson had to pull out of the rescheduled contest in March 2016, and just over a year later fans were once again denied this highly-anticipated bout when a botched weight cut resulted in Khabib falling ill just one day before UFC 209. Surely it would be fourth time luck, right? Wrong. Injury forced Ferguson out of the main event of UFC 223 and that left Khabib to face Al Iaquinta, who he dominated for five rounds to become undisputed lightweight champion.
So what has happened since that fourth attempt at putting this fight together? Khabib has maintained his perfect professional record to cement his status as the number one lightweight fighter on the planet. He dominated Conor McGregor for almost four rounds before finally putting the Irishman out of his misery with neck crank, and in his next defense a year later the defending champion produced another all-conquering performance as he controlled the fight with Dustin Poirier before sinking in a fight-ending rear-naked choke. That victory over ‘The Diamond’ took his perfect professional record to 28-0, but will Ferguson be victim number 29?
While Khabib as retained top spot in the 155lb ranks, Ferguson has had to overcome injury and personal issues away from the Octagon to keep himself in the title picture. ‘El Cucuy’ ended a one-year absence on the undercard of the Khabib-McGregor fight as he beat Anthony Pettis in a thrilling two-round affair that was halted when ‘Showtime’ sustained a broken hand. Ferguson followed that up with a TKO success against Donald Cerrone in the following June as he busted up the face of the veteran ‘Cowboy’ and gave him a broken nose. Cerrone made the mistake of blowing said broken nose, causing his eyes to swell up and forcing the doctor to end the contest. Neither finish had been particularly satisfying, but in those four rounds Ferguson had firmly staked his claim to be the next man to step into the Octagon with Khabib.
UFC president Dana White had previously quipped that he would never make this fight again, having seen it collapse four times in the past, but there was no way on Earth that he could not pit Khabib and Ferguson together in 2020. It could not be as simple as that though – a certain virus reared its head and forced the mass cancellation and suspension of sporting events and leagues across the planet. The UFC was forced to hold a Brazil event without fans before cancelling to US-based events and a card set for London, but White has remained steadfast. Fight fans have waited for over four years to see this fight – they will not have to wait any longer.
“We’re going to follow these guidelines to not have more than 10 people in a room and we’re hoping that this all clears up by April,” he told ESPN. “This fight’s going to happen, no crowd, whatever it takes. [It’s] probably not going to even be in the United States but this fight’s going to happen.”
So the question is when Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson finally have their snake-bitten fight, who will leave the Octagon as the undisputed lightweight champion of the world? Read on for our free Khabib Nurmagomedov v Tony Ferguson UFC 249 predictions and tips…
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Tony Ferguson UFC 249 Tips
This is, quite simply, the toughest test that Khabib has faced since he first put pen-to-paper on a deal with the UFC. That is not meant to be a slight on his previous opponents – he has faced former champions in the likes of Conor McGregor and Rafael dos Anjos on his way to the summit and he also has several other notable names on his record. However, he has never faced a man quite like Tony Ferguson – a man who can cause problems for the champion even when the fight enters to Russian’s world, ie. it hits the mat. He is an aggressive fighter from the bottom who will not simply allow Khabib to smother him and wear him down for five rounds – he will look for submissions and the slightest mistake and brief moment of carelessness could be all he needs to hook in a submission that forces the champion to tap out and surrender his belt and unbeaten record.
And on the feet this is a man who can dish out and take a serious amount of punishment. Ferguson can be hit and he can be rocked, but the decision never to spar in training camp (until this fight) may well be a masterstroke because it has limited the amount of shots to the head that he has taken over the years. Offensively, his movement is slick and unpredictable and he possesses a massive reach advantage that can help him fight at distance and help him predict when Khabib’s takedown attempts are coming. And going back to his submission game, if the champion foolishly sticks his head in the wrong place at the wrong time during a takedown attempt, then Ferguson is more than capable of capitalising on it and hooking in a submission attempt.
So as you can see unlike, for example McGregor, the challenger is a much more well-rounded fighter. He can stand and trade on the feet and he can grapple on the mat, and unlike the Irishman he will not spend a great deal of the fight concerned with trying to avoid the takedown. If the fight hits the mat he will be happy to fight there. But will all of this result in a victory for Ferguson?
One of the big criticisms levelled at Khabib during his climb to the top of the lightweight division was his grinding approach that saw him smother opponents but never really pull the trigger and attempt to finish the fight. That is certainly no longer the case – he has forced his last two opponents to tap out so we are now seeing a completely ruthless side to a man who has dominated the 155lb ranks. Will we see that here? I am not so sure. For me the champion will be more content to grind this one out because he is fighting a man who can punish the smallest mistake if the two men hit the ground. That could be a mistake though, especially if Ferguson enjoys the better of the stand-up exchanges.
This really is a fantastic match-up that could go either way and this is a major risk, but I am going to back Ferguson to shock the world. Every dominant champion comes up against their kryptonite at some point and ‘El Cucuy’ may well be Khabib’s. He has the all-round skillset that gives him a better shot than anyone of dethroning the champion, and if you are looking for an even bolder prediction then I say take Ferguson by submission. If you are looking for some ‘insurance’ for either of those selections I recommend taking Over 2.5 Total Rounds. This one will not be over in a flash. This rivalry will not be over in one fight. If you are looking for the next potential trilogy in the UFC then these two gentlemen could provide it, and provide plenty of entertainment in the process.
Khabib v Ferguson Tips: Expert Predictions For UFC 249 Main Event
UFC lightweight contender Justin Gaethje talking to Michael Bisping’s ‘Believe You Me’ podcast: “I do think Khabib will win, but I do think Tony is going to bring some.I don’t know if he’s going to lay on his back and throw elbows, I don’t know what the hell is going to happen there. Especially the way Khabib fights, and the way Khabib wins. It’s crazy how much and how hard Tony gets hit, how often he gets hit at fights but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for him in this fight because Khabib is not going to be looking to exploit that, that option. He’s going to do what he does. I’m really interested to see if Tony, his jiu-jitsu, for one, plays a factor, and for two, just his tenaciousness of being on bottom and still wanting to fight.”
Former lightweight title challenger Dustin Poirier on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show: “I think Khabib beats Ferguson. It’s MMA. Anything can happen. Nothing’s for sure. But I just think he’s going to be the better competitor. I think if Kevin Lee was able to outwrestle Tony, and I think Danny Castillo did the same thing, Khabib’s definitely going to be able to do it.”