As UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor continues to recover from moonlighting as a professional boxer, business has picked up considerably at 155 pounds.
Tony Ferguson announced himself in a big way on Saturday by submitting Kevin Lee to capture the interim lightweight title at UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Then he took to the microphone to challenge McGregor.
“Where are you at McNuggets? You f—— piece of s—, I’m going to kick your ass,” Ferguson said. “You better come and f—— defend that belt. Defend or vacate m—–f—–.
“It’s my time and my belt. Come and get this s—.”
Both McGregor and the UFC may have just found themselves the perfect dance partner at lightweight who can match the Irish star’s dangerous striking and brash gifts on the microphone.
Now it’s just up to the UFC to make the fight.
Ferguson (23-3) showed the full arsenal of his gifts in Saturday’s main event, relying on his chin early to gas out Lee before attacking with his trademark awkward and varied striking style. After nearly submitting a fading Lee (16-3) in Round 3 with an armbar, Ferguson locked in a triangle choke to force the tap at 4:02.
The victory was the 10th straight for Ferguson, 33, who was arguably the most deserving of a title in all of UFC.
“F—– amazing! F— yeah!,” Ferguson said. “This fight went exactly the way I wanted it to be. I wanted him to come out at me and use all that aggression and leave nothing left for that submission.”
Lee, 24, came out aggressive in the opening round to land a pair of big right hands. After securing a takedown late, Lee worked to full mount and landed a series of savage strikes that left Ferguson in serious trouble as the round closed.
But Ferguson, who talked trash throughout the fight, took umbrage with Lee’s attempt to land another shot after the horn and instantly stood up from the beating to chase him down and share insults.
“I knew he was going to be slippery and I knew he was a game opponent and was going to be tough,” Ferguson said. “I just knew I had to weather the storm and he was going to keep using that energy, so I pissed him off more so that he would use it.”
Ferguson controlled Round 2 on his feet from distance and bloodied Lee’s nose. Despite hitting a takedown to open Round 3, Lee was quickly running out of gas and eventually succumbed to Ferguson’s submission attempt from his back.
“I underestimated his work from the bottom,” Lee said. “The elbows. What can I say, man? I thought i came out here and gave my best.”
Lee felt the effects of an incredibly difficult weight cut throughout. He needed theto make 155 pounds on Friday and entered the Octagon with a red blotch on his chest that he admitted after the fight was a staph infection.
“The staph was bothering me throughout the weight cut,” Lee said. “I damn near killed myself making the weight. I think it’s time for me to go up [to welterweight]. The staph infection was a little too much for me to handle. I should’ve been on antibiotics but what can I say?
“Tony was the better man tonight. Whatever I’m going through, don’t take away from what he did. His bottom work, he’s the man. I hope he goes out there and gets the job done.”
Despite a promotion filled with colorful trash talk, Lee was quick to point out that he hold no grudge Ferguson.
“Tony, there may have been a lot of back and forth but we come from the same alma mater [Grand Valley State] and I’ve got nothing but respect for this man,” Lee said. “I had to say what I had to say to get the fight but I’m still young and I’m still in this game.”
Lee’s weight issues nearly spoiled Ferguson’s attempt at winning a UFC title. It would’ve been deja vu from UFC 209 in March when Khabib Nurmagomedov was hospitalized for a difficult weight cut, calling off their interim title bout.
Whether or not Ferguson will ultimately get the chance to unify lightweight titles with McGregor remains to be seen. Not only did McGregor reportedly pocket upwards of $100 million from his boxing loss to Floyd Mayweather in August, he currently holds more leverage than any other fighter in UFC history.
McGregor has also never defended either world title he has won in the promotion. McGregor is expected to chase the money in a trilogy fight against Nate Diaz, which UFC hopes for its Dec. 30 card in Las Vegas.
But there’s little question a McGregor-Ferguson fight would be fireworks — before, during and likely after.
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