October 9, 2017

UFC 216: Tony Ferguson Takes A Step Forward In the Conor McGregor Sweepstakes

By Raphael Garcia

With UFC 216 in the books, the answer to “what’s next” seems slightly more clear. Tony Ferguson is the UFC Interim Lightweight Champion, submitting Kevin Lee in the third round of their highly anticipated bout. Ferguson has made it apparent that he wants to face Conor McGregor next, and according to UFC President Dana White, Ferguson is next in line, but the Irishman is in the driver’s seat. And at this point in time, the destination is far from certain, for all the parties involved.

The UFC Lightweight Champion is coming off of his biggest outing to date, but it came outside of the Octagon. His failed attempt at Floyd Mayweather proved that McGregor is the biggest name in mixed martial arts. He’s an attractive foil for any fighter, regardless of division, which is why the UFC 216 main event was so important for the fighters involved.

With Ferguson crowned as the interim champion, a fight between the two makes the most sense on paper. Ferguson is on a historic run, unlike any other in the division, putting together a ten-fight win streak which includes victories over former champions and stoppages of various forms. He may not have the personality and promotional skills that draw attention from the masses, but his abilities in the cage prove that he’s an elite competitor. Ferguson was a compelling opponent for McGregor before this win, but now that he has procured the interim championship, it seems like he’s finally going to get the fight he’s coveted.

At least it seems that way. Nate Diaz is a name that still casts a shadow over the 155-pound title picture. With a 1-1 record against the champion, he’s the fighter that many fans want to see step into the Octagon with McGregor next. And while putting that fight together will be tough for the leaders within the UFC -- the Diaz brothers have never been known to “play nice” with White -- there’s an opportunity for the rubber match of their series to take center stage and close out 2017 with an important card. That is, if the UFC can get those parties to come together at the table.

But the “red panty night” isn’t just a two-horse race. There are two other men who could insert themselves into the conversation, in Georges St. Pierre and Max Holloway. St. Pierre is stepping into the cage against Michael Bisping at UFC 217, and has made it clear that he’s coming back for new challenges, such as the middleweight title. If he’s successful there, imagine the excitement that would boil if he calls out McGregor for a fight between the 185-pound champion and the 155-pound champion. The two have taken shots at each other in the past, and a bout between two of the sport's biggest names would be an attention grabber for sure. Holloway, on the other hand, is an even bigger longshot than GSP, seeing as he’s already competed against McGregor. That fight, which took place at UFC Fight Night 26 four years ago, was the last time he was defeated, and he’s since put together a run that’s brought him featherweight gold. Holloway has talked about moving up to 155 pounds, and if he gets past Frankie Edgar at the end of the year, a rematch against McGregor in a champion vs. champion showdown wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The "Conor McGregor Sweepstakes" is real, and fighters are jockeying for an opportunity to face him and get paid. Tony Ferguson looks to be the frontrunner, but do not be surprised if the UFC were to make a classic turn in another direction, particularly if it involves Nate Diaz or GSP. The promotion has shown in the past that when there’s millions of dollars involved, change is never a bad idea. But if you're Ferguson, you're hoping this horse race stays the course.

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