UFC returns with Tony Ferguson eyeing 'real' lightweight title

Reuters

Friday 8 May 2020 10:30, UK

Tony Ferguson
Image: Tony Ferguson is aiming for a 13th consecutive win at UFC 249

The main event of Saturday's UFC 249 card in Florida is billed as being for the interim lightweight title but Tony Ferguson says he should be considered the real champion if he beats opponent Justin Gaethje.

Former collegiate wrestler Ferguson, who comes into the bout on a 12-fight win streak, was supposed to fight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in Brooklyn on April 18 but that was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The unbeaten Nurmagomedov, who has returned to Russia, had previously been booked to fight Ferguson on another four occasions but each bout was cancelled because of health or fitness issues.

Ferguson said the Dagestan native and Irish fighter Conor McGregor "both need to retire".

Justin Gaethje reacts prior to the lightweight fight against Dustin Poirier
Image: Justin Gaethje stands in Tony Ferguson's way at UFC 249

"The only two real men out there are going to be me and Justin Gaethje," he told reporters ahead of Saturday's bout at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.

Ferguson said UFC 249, which is taking place with stringent testing procedures and no fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, could reach a sports-starved audience that may not otherwise tune in to a mixed martial arts event.

"Right now, there are no Olympics, there is no Wimbledon, there is no NBA Draft, there is no NFL Draft, there is no tennis, there is no soccer, hockey, there is no baseball," he added.

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"This is what we bring to the table. We are going to do our best and we are going to keep sports alive."

Khabib Nurmagomedov
Image: Khabib Nurmagomedov is the UFC's lightweight champion

Nurmagomedov is reportedly set to face the winner of Saturday's fight, while also lurking in the wings is former two-weight title-holder McGregor, who made a return to winning ways with a swift TKO of Donald Cerrone in January.

Ferguson's run of 12 straight wins is a UFC lightweight record, and having already held the interim belt after beating Kevin Lee in 2017 before being stripped due to an injury, the Californian now feels his time has come.

"This is not for an interim title," he said. "This is for the real championship."