February 23, 2019

UFC 236: Tony Ferguson Is the Odd Man Out Once Again In Lightweight Title Circus

By Adam Martin

Late Friday night the MMA world was shocked when Brett Okamoto of ESPN reported that the main event of UFC 236 is going to be an interim lightweight title fight between UFC Featherweight Champion Max Holloway and top contender Dustin Poirier. For weeks, speculation online had been that Holloway would be moving up from 145 to challenge former interim champ Tony Ferguson for the placeholder belt while UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov remains suspended. Surprisingly, it'll be Poirier who gets the title shot.

While Poirier has looked amazing as of late with a five-fight unbeaten streak including three straight knockout wins, there's no doubt Ferguson was more deserving of a title fight. Ferguson is on an 11-fight win streak and is coming off of a TKO win over Anthony Pettis on the same card that Nurmagomedov beat Conor McGregor to a pulp, UFC 229. Unfortunately for Ferguson, the post-fight brawl after UFC 229 changed the timeline of the lightweight division. Instead of being on the same timetable as Nurmagomedov, the UFC wanted Ferguson to take another fight in the meantime, while Ferguson and his team didn't want to do.

It's hard to blame Ferguson's team for not wanting their fighter to fight for an interim belt when we saw what happened last time. Ferguson, as the interim champ, was supposed to be guaranteed a title shot. But when he blew out his knee just before UFC 223 fight week, UFC President Dana White stripped him of his interim belt, with Al Iaquinta eventually fighting Nurmagomedov. Ferguson took the fight with Pettis and won, which most figured would guarantee him another title shot against Nurmagomedov, but apparently things weren't meant to be. Now, with Poirier and Holloway fighting each other, Ferguson is now left without a dance partner.

The UFC could in theory book Ferguson against McGregor, with the winner getting a title shot, or perhaps even give him a money fight against Nate Diaz. But Ferguson has been adamant he wants a title fight, so taking non-title fights doesn't seem likely at this point. It's possible Ferguson has gotten himself into hot water with the UFC just like Colby Covington did when he declined taking an interim welterweight title fight against Kamaru Usman, which led to the demise of UFC 233; we all know White and the UFC matchmakers are known to hold a grudge. So while Ferguson tried to play hardball with the UFC, ultimately he swung and missed.

I fully expect Poirier vs. Holloway to be a great fight, and I understand why the UFC booked it, given that Ferguson allegedly turned down an interim title fight, and UFC 236 needed some star power. Having said that, it's hard not to feel bad for Ferguson. This guy has done everything he's needed in order to get a title shot and for whatever reason things keep going against him. It's possible that a fighter with 11 wins in a row will never get a chance to win the undisputed UFC lightweight title. Right now, he's the odd man out in the lightweight carousel. He probably should have taken the interim title fight, but the UFC called his bluff, and now we'll have to wait and see what happens next.

UFC 236
Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier 2 (Interim Lightweight Championship)

UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2 takes place April 13, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Click HERE for more UFC 236 Pre-Fight Analysis

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