MMA Ratings Podcast

September 8, 2019

UFC 242: After Abu Dhabi Win, Nothing Else Matters At Lightweight But Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson

By Raphael Garcia

There are very few absolutes in professional sports, and even fewer in mixed martial arts. At UFC 242, fight fans witnessed Khabib Nurmagomedov submit Dustin Poirier in the third round of their championship bout, dominating him in nearly every aspect of the fight. Now that that battle is over, there is one true absolute about what comes next for “The Eagle,” and that is Tony Ferguson. Nothing else in the lightweight division matters for the 28-0 fighter.

When looking at Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson, you must start with the fact that the UFC has tried to go this route in the past. Four times between 2015 and 2018 UFC matchmakers attempted to put this contest together. Each time the fight fell apart, with Nurmagomedov and Ferguson pulling out two times each. What was even more heartbreaking was that each time, the fight was closer to happening before it fell apart due to some sudden injury or weight cut issue. It was as if the MMA gods were toying with the hearts of everyone involved.

But after what we saw on Saturday, there isn’t any question about the need for Ferguson and Nurmagomedov to tempt the MMA gods once again. Forget about anything that Conor McGregor tweets, or whatever Georges St-Pierre says in an interview; those fights do not belong in this conversation. McGregor may be the biggest draw in MMA, but he hasn’t won a fight in nearly three years. St-Pierre is a massive draw in his own right, but we all know that UFC President Dana White isn’t going to bend to the Canadian’s will once again...especially after the way he vacated the UFC Middleweight Championship without any intention of defending it. White may have said “Hell No” to the idea of booking the fight a fifth time in the past, but even he knows this is the right way to go.

So let's talk about what type of threat Nurmagomedov would pose to Ferguson, and vice versa. Whenever one talks about Nurmagomedov, the first thing mentioned is the threat of the takedown. One might see his relatively low 47 percent takedown accuracy rate and make the incorrect assessment that he isn't every effective in that respect, but it would be remiss to ignore the number of takedowns attempted and landed. Nurmagomedov frequently chains one attempt after another; against Poirier he had eight total attempts across three rounds. In 12 fights in the Octagon, Nurmagomedov has had more than five takedown attempts in all but two of those fights: against Thiago Tavares and Darrel Horcher. Both men were finished via strikes while Nurmagomedov was in dominant positions on the ground.

So yes, a fight between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov is going to go to the ground at some point. But the question that everyone is asking is what happens once it gets there? What every opponent has attempted to do as of late is to get back to their feet and get separation. That is as futile as an attempt at arm wrestling The Incredible Hulk. Once Nurmagomedov attaches himself to an opponent, those years of wrestling bears pay off for him, because it’s highly unlikely he is getting away. But playing guard and attempting to submit the current champion, that’s a new game in its own right. In those same 12 Octagon battles, Nurmagomedov has only faced two submission attempts. One by Poirier on Saturday and the other by Michael Johnson back in 2016.

Let’s compare that to what Ferguson has done in the UFC. In his 16 Octagon battles he has 15 submission attempts. Eight of his 25 professional victories have come via submission. Ferguson has shown that he’s willing to take risks and attempt to roll into a leg attack or go to his back and attack his opponent from his guard. Plus, he has the tendency to throw vicious elbows from his back, which do damage as well. We’ve seen multiple examples of fighters being cut on their heads and faces while in an opponent's guard, and when the blood and sweat mix, grappling becomes that more difficult. Ferguson frequently plays an aggressive guard, utilizing butterfly hooks to elevate his opponent into attacks and creating space. This is the one puzzle piece that Nurmagomedov has yet to face during his run through the lightweight division, and it is the question that we must see answered through this pairing.

There isn’t any other way for the UFC to go. It only makes sense to bring these two lightweights together in the fight that will help decide who is probably one and two on the all-time great list in this division. The fans and UFC personnel alike need to start praying to the MMA gods right this moment that these two men can make it into the Octagon this time out.

UFC 242
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier (UFC Lightweight Championship): Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Dustin Poirier via submission submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:06 of Round 3.

UFC 242: Khabib vs. Poirier took place September 7, 2019 at The Arena in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

Click HERE for more UFC 242 Post-Fight Analysis

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