By Adam Martin
UFC 209 was supposed to give more clarity to the UFC's lightweight division, but instead it just caused more confusion.
With UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor out on paternity leave and chasing a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather, the UFC booked an interim lightweight title bout between the #1 contender Khabib Nurmagomedov -- he of the perfect 24-0 MMA record and 8-0 UFC record -- and #2 contender Tony Ferguson -- he of the 12-1 UFC record and nine-fight win streak. Although interim titles in general are a bad idea, this was one of the few instances where an interim belt made sense, and the fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson was one of the most-anticipated bouts of the year.
Unfortunately for the fighters, for the UFC, and most importantly for the fans, the fight was scratched on weigh-in day after Numagomedov was rushed to the hospital with pains in his liver and kidneys stemming from a bad weight cut. According to reports, Nurmagomedov was six pounds over when he started feeling pains and was taken to a local Las Vegas hospital by his manager Ali Abdel-Aziz. The fight could not be saved, and now Nurmagomedov's team is saying the Russian star will need time to recover from such a bad weight cut, leaving Ferguson in a really weird spot in the lightweight division, as a re-booking between these two is not likely to happen anytime soon.
Obviously, Ferguson is well deserving of a title fight with McGregor, but that's not likely to happen anytime soon, and with Nurmagomedov's career in flux at the moment, that fight won't be happening anytime soon either, so Ferguson has suggested a few fights that make sense. Remember, he's already beaten many of the top-10 lightweights, so it's not easy finding him a fight.
Edson Barboza makes sense, and I agree with him, despite Barboza's impressive win at UFC Fight Night 106. He already finished Barboza not too long ago, and rematching him would be taking a step backwards. Although Michael Chiesa is a solid fighter, Ferguson is right in that they are on two different levels right now, and that doesn't make sense at the moment (Chiesa vs. Barboza works though). He said a fight with Michael Johnson, the only man to beat Ferguson in the UFC, is intriguing because he'll get a chance to avenge that loss, but then again, Johnson is well below him in the rankings. Ferguson even suggested moving up to welterweight to stay active -- he did with TUF 13 as a 170-pounder -- but that would be a dangerous move for him, and at this point of his career it's likely too risky.
Nate Diaz. Sure, Diaz lost to McGregor at UFC 202, but it was a close fight, and of course he submitted McGregor at UFC 196. Right now Diaz is one of the sport's biggest stars, and even though he hasn't won a lightweight bout in a while (a win over Johnson at UFC on Fox 17 in December 2015), based on his name, the fact he had two great fights with McGregor, and the fact he can sell a pay-per-view with Ferguson would likely help him skip ahead of the other lightweights and get a chance to face Ferguson for an interim lightweight belt. The only problem, of course, is that Diaz is holding out on that trilogy fight with McGregor. But Diaz is not likely to get that fight anytime soon, and by beating Ferguson and claiming the interim belt, he would basically guarantee he gets a third fight with McGregor down the road.
If Diaz refuses to fight Ferguson, though, then Ferguson is going to have to either wait and see what McGregor does, hope Nurmagomedov comes back soon, or take a step backwards against a lower-ranked fighter. It's an unfortunate spot for Ferguson to be in. After all, he's won nine fights in a row, made weight like a professional, and has done everything the right way. But MMA isn't a fair sport, and now Ferguson is starting to feel that, just like Yoel Romero is. The best thing for him to do at this point, however, is to continue to fight and make money, because there are no guarantees in this sport, and sometimes you have to take what's given to you, even when it isn't fair.