When a report surfaced Thursday night that former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson is likely to battle former lightweight titleholder Anthony Pettis at UFC 229, excitement was in the air as a fight between the two would likely produce fireworks. However, skepticism was in the air as no confirmation had been given and things could have easily fallen apart.
Pettis took to Twitter later Thursday evening to announce the matchup. Excitement was replaced by pure jubilation. The world would love to see two of the most dynamic strikers in the 155-pound division go head-to-head. Also, it would be the first time Tony Ferguson would compete in the Octagon since October of 2017 when he won the interim UFC lightweight title against Kevin Lee. He was slated to face Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223 back in April, but a freak injury ruined those plans and saw him get stripped of the world title. Nurmagomedov remained on the card and defeated Al Iaquinta to become the undisputed champion.
On to the next one! #ufc229 #teampettis #414 #702 pic.twitter.com/YNIljSseI5
— Anthony Pettis (@Showtimepettis) August 24, 2018
DAZN: There’s a new way to watch fight sports — find out more
UFC 229 is headlined by Nurmagomedov putting the belt on the line against former featherweight and lightweight champ Conor McGregor. There’s a reason the UFC put Ferguson on this card and it isn’t to highlight his comeback fight on the biggest UFC show of 2018.
The real reason Ferguson is on the show is to be the replacement in case either Nurmagomedov or McGregor fall off the card. Even Ferguson knows what the UFC is doing.
“Champ Shit Only” Someone’s Getting Suplexed Snap Down City Style ? #snapintuit SnapJitsu™️ I’ve Got Three “3” Opponents To Train For… Fuckin’ A… Bring That Shit On #ufc229 -Cucuy AKA Champ ????? @mmajunkiedotcom @usatoday pic.twitter.com/8gLJpu6Jmt
— Tony Ferguson (@TonyFergusonXT) August 23, 2018
For some reason, the UFC has failed to put a high-profile bout in the same weight class as the championship fight. You never know when a fighter could get pulled from the card and a replacement on short notice is needed.
Look at the aforementioned UFC 223. The UFC went to featherweight champion Max Holloway and he ended up getting pulled the day before the event. The UFC had to scramble to find a replacement and settled on Iaquinta. But Iaquinta was unable to fight for the title due to missing the championship contracted weight of 155 pounds. If the UFC had informed Iaquinta that he could be a replacement or had another big name on the card, this situation could have been avoided.
Back at UFC 209 in Mar. 2017, Nurgomedov and Ferguson were scheduled to meet for the interim lightweight title. Like Holloway, Nurmogomedov was pulled the day before the card with no suitable replacement already on the card to step up to the plate and take on Ferguson.
The UFC could ill-afford to lose Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor in what has been dubbed “the biggest fight in UFC history.” The event already has the second biggest gate in MMA history and is expected to break the pay-per-view buyrate record of 1.65 million set by McGregor vs. Nate Diaz II in Aug. 2016. If either is forced off, Ferguson would serve as a suitable replacement considering that he’s the former champion who has a history with both McGregor and Nurmagomedov. Ferguson may not be as big of a name as McGregor, but few would complain if Nurmagomedov and Ferguson ended up being a main event. The same can be said if Nurmagomedov was unable to compete and McGregor vs. Ferguson headlined the event.
Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have been scheduled to meet four times. Each time something has happened to either guy and the fight has been scrapped. There has been a great deal of tension between the two fighters and that would certainly translate if they ended up facing one another.
Ferguson has been calling out McGregor since the latter won the title from Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in Nov. 2016. The trash talk got louder when “El Cucuy” won the interim title against Kevin Lee at UFC 216, calling McGregor “McNuggets” anytime his name was brought up.
Pay-per-view buys would drop slightly if Nurmagomedov is off the show due to the star power of McGregor, but there would be a significant drop if something happened to the two-division world champion because of the same scenario if the native of Dagestan is unable to compete.
Everyone can take a deep breath and relax because UFC 229 is in good hands and you will see a fantastic main event regardless of who is inside the Octagon.