In just a few short hours, No. 2-ranked lightweight Tony Ferguson will take on No. 7 Kevin Lee for the interim 155-pound title in the main event of tonight’s (Sat., October 7, 2017) UFC 216 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It’s a bout that could predict the future of one of MMA’s most talented divisions, one that more importantly houses the most popular fighter in the UFC as champion. The bout also features two of the UFC’s more colorful personalities and potential future stars outside of McGregor in Ferguson and Lee.
During a meteoric rise to prominence that’s seen him train with boxing great Floyd Mayweather for his TKO win over McGregor, Lee has talked a big game and received a big fight on accord of that. ‘The Motown Phenom’ has won five straight fights, and his biggest win was his recent submission of Michael Chiesa in June, albeit amongst some controversy even though Lee was dominating the fight.
The brash, colorful, and unique challenger has repeatedly called out oft-injured No. 1 contender Khabib Nurmagomedov and said that McGregor would ‘have to show him something’ to get a shot at his belt after he beat Ferguson. That’s proven no easy task for the last several years, however, as the unorthodox ‘El Cucuy’ hasn’t lost a fight since May 2012, winning nine straight in the notoriously deep 155-pound landscape.
Where Lee has talked his way into a title shot – especially by calling out Ferguson while he manned the FOX Sports 1 desk after his win over Chiesa – at least somewhat, ‘El Cucuy’ has earned it in the cage and this opportunity has been a long time coming. The fight has all the makings of a high-profile mixed martial arts main event, yet it’s unlikely to do big pay-per-view numbers, a too-often-heard occurrence in a down year overall.
The winner, by all standard accounts, should be the obvious choice for the next shot at McGregor’s belt, yet that is far from a guarantee in today’s uncertain MMA world. As UFC owners WME-IMG attempt to recoup a massive investment, emphasis has been placed on a bout’s marketability, and titles supposedly mean more in terms of sales. Interim titles are handed out like prizes on the Oprah Winfrey show, but fans have apparently seen through it as PPV numbers have sunk lower and lower.
So McGregor could face Nate Diaz in their oft-discussed trilogy bout that isn’t so much a matter of if, but when it happens. That fight could certainly do bigger numbers than McGregor vs. the winner of Ferguson vs. Lee, even though any fight with McGregor would do big numbers. The UFC has to be hoping he will just defend his title, and indeed he said that would be a priority during his recent interview in Glasgow. He also kept his options open for just about every other bout, as well, including a rematch in the boxing ring with Mayweather.
And if history is any indication, we know ‘The Notorious’ could do anything at anytime, making a bout with the winner of UFC 216’s headliner as likely as the Diaz fight or perhaps even a multitude of others. Many fans have called out for McGregor to finally defend his title against a legitimate, deserving contender, and Ferguson or Lee would be just that with a win at UFC 216.
It’s just a shame that in today’s UFC, winning a fight that headline a pay-per-view as an interim title match-up may not earn the winner a valid title shot. Let’s hope Ferguson and Lee are truly fighting for what they think they are later tonight.