At UFC 216, Tony Ferguson became the lightweight interim champion with a masterful submission over rising star Kevin Lee.
As with the conclusion of any major fight event, the fans, the press and most fighter’s want to know what’s next – So what’s next for Tony Ferguson?
As interim champion, a unification bout with current champion Conor McGregor “makes sense”. However, this is the new UFC, and increasingly the fights that make sense are fights that will drive PPV buys.
That’s not to say a bout between McGregor and Ferguson, wouldn’t sell PPV. But, the spectre of a Nate Diaz trilogy, or any other potential McGregor ‘money’ fight, threatens to ruin Ferguson’s ‘red panty night’.
Despite comments from UFC President Dana White, who said, “It’s the [McGregor] fight that makes sense”, the reality is McGregor hasn’t made his decision.
Ferguson doesn’t seem to have much patience for the Irish superstar, and would likely look to stay active if McGregor did decide on another fight. Stating that he’s ready for whoever they put in front of him, and telling McGregor specifically to “Defend or Vacate”, after his UFC 216 Victory.
There is of course the possibility of rescheduling a fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov – for the fourth time. And then there’s Max Holloway.
Both Holloway and Ferguson have shared a remarkably similar rise to UFC glory. In 2012 both men lost unanimous decisions, and neither looked anything like a world beater.
Yet, since 2012 Holloway has systematically dismantled every opponent he’s faced in the featherweight division – amassing an 11-fight win streak. While, Ferguson has done exactly the same at lightweight, securing his tenth consecutive win in the division – after defeating Lee.
Now, both champions in their respective divisions, Holloway and Ferguson’s impressive records are the second and third longest active win streaks in the entire UFC.
Holloway, a large feather weight, stands just one inch shorter than the 6ft Ferguson, and recently told flocombat that as he gets older the 155 pound division could be in his future. The only real physical benefit Ferguson would have in a fight with Holloway, a seven-inch reach advantage.
Although the majority of Ferguson’s UFC wins have come via submission, he doesn’t rely on relentless takedown attempts to secure them. Instead, Ferguson uses his wild and unorthodox brand of stand up, to tire his opponent out, or force them to shoot, providing openings for his submission game.
Another large part of Ferguson’s success comes down to his chin and cardio, which he relies on to counter the risks of his creative, but dangerous style.
However, if there’s anything Holloway has, it’s a chin and plenty of cardio. The 25-year-old Hawaiian is himself an exceptionally gifted and creative stand up artist, and it his pressure and pace that often overwhelm his opponents – with most of his victories coming from KO/TKO.
In short, a fight between the two men should promise to be an absolute war, with each man trying to prove his creativity and adaptability on the feet superior.
A potential super-fight between Ferguson and Holloway may be a while away yet. Holloway still needs to defend against Frankie Edgar at UFC 218, and McGregor would have to officially decide not to defend against Ferguson. But, the hypothetical bout could very well happen in 2018.
UFC 217 will set a precedent in December after a year of ‘money’ fights and boxing matches for the UFC. Michael Bisping Will defend the middleweight title against unranked former Welterweight Champion George St Pierre. The interim middleweight champion, Australian Robert Whittaker will be watching from the sideline.
It’s an interesting time in UFC history, as we all struggle to decide how to balance spectacle and sport. If two men with little left to prove in their own divisions can’t fight the man they both deserve to fight, maybe the next best opponent to solidify their greatness, is each other.
* Tony Ferguson image via MMA Junkie