March 1, 2017

UFC 209: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson Is A Lightweight Dream Fight

By Adam Martin

The co-main event of this weekend's UFC 209 is a dream fight for MMA fans. With the interim UFC lightweight title on the line, Khabib Nurmagomedov will meet Tony Ferguson in the first-ever title fight in UFC history featuring two fighters on eight-fight or more win streaks. That pretty much says it all; this is an incredible matchup between two incredible mixed martial artists, and on paper it has the makings of a Fight of the Year candidate when 2017 is done. It's just an incredibly well-matched fight, and should be an amazing display of MMA.

Nurmagomedov is 28 years old and in his prime. He's a perfect 24-0 in his MMA career dating back to 2008, and in the UFC alone he's a pristine 8-0. After missing two years of action with injuries following his career-best win over Rafael dos Anjos in April 2014, Nurmagomedov has looked better than ever since returning in April 2016, destroying Michael Johnson via submission and Darrell Horcher via TKO in his last two fights. Nurmagomedov has one of the most dominant wrestling games MMA has ever seen, and he keeps improving his submissions and ground and pound every time we see him, which makes him ultra dangerous. He's one of the most popular fighters on the roster based on his high-paced, aggressive fighting style and social media presence, and a huge win over Ferguson could shoot him into superstardom and be the reason the UFC finally makes its promotional debut in Russia.

Ferguson is a bit older at 33, but like Nurmagomedov he's in his physical prime. Ferguson won The Ultimate Fighter Season 13 and since then has gone an incredible 12-1 in the UFC with eight finishes and victories over the likes of RDA, Edson Barboza, and Josh Thomson, with his lone loss coming to Johnson in a fight where he broke his arm. Like Nurmagomedov, Ferguson missed nearly two years of MMA action recovering from having his arm repaired following the Johnson fight, but the proof is in the pudding since then, as he's currently riding an amazing nine-fight win streak and has won either Fight of the Night or Performance of the Night in his last five outings, which is extremely impressive. He has shown an incredible well-rounded game in the UFC, with incredible submission skills, slick striking, and solid wrestling, and has very few flaws in his game. Ferguson is different from Nurmagomedov in that he's quiet and not outspoken on social media, but don't let that fool you, he does his speaking in the cage.

With Conor McGregor taking time off, as his girlfriend is having a baby in the coming months, and with boxing or a superfight against Georges St-Pierre likely on the horizon, the UFC had to book Nurmagomedov and Ferguson for the interim belt because it just wouldn't be right seeing fighters on eight- and nine-fight win streaks fighting without a title at stake. So this is one of the few instances where an interim belt actually makes sense, and the best part of that is this fight is going to be for five rounds and not three. And based on the stylistic matchup between these two, it will likely take five rounds to determine who the better fighter really is. Heck, it might take 10 or 15 rounds, as there's a chance this fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson could be the first in a trilogy. These two fighters are just so talented and so exciting that if this fight is as good as it should play out, there's no reason we can't see it again in the future. However, we still need to get through the fight this weekend and see how it plays out before a rematch even becomes a possibility.

On paper, this is a very close fight. Nurmagomedov is undefeated and has more hype, so he is the betting favorite, but Ferguson is excellent in his own right. It's truly a fight that could go either way, a real coin flip, and that's what makes it so intriguing. MMA fans just want to see exciting, evenly-matched fights, and this bout is exactly that. It's a dream fight for fans, and don't be surprised at all if we're talking about this as the best fight of 2017 when the year is over and done with. It's going to be something really special.

UFC 209: Woodley vs. Thompson 2 takes place March 4, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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