It’s arguably the most-wanted matchup in the history of the UFC that’s ultimately failed to come to fruition, not for the want of trying, however.
Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson were paired together on a staggering five separate occasions — and on each of those attempted matchups, injuries, weight-cutting issues, and most recently, complications amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevented the two from ever setting foot inside the Octagon together.
Viewed as two of the most dominant lightweight talents the division has ever had, as recently as April and then May of last year, Khabib and Ferguson, who were both riding, division-tying twelve-fight unbeaten streaks were paired together. With undisputed lightweight title spoils up for grabs — communications between Khabib and UFC officials seen the matchup scuppered as the Russian travelled home amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, with travel restrictions preventing his re-entry to the United States.
Nine months later, the potential matchup of two of the greatest lightweight forces in the history of the sport is dead and buried. Khabib has since announced his retirement from professional mixed martial arts, following the sad passing of his father and renowned coach, Abdulmanap — despite the best efforts of Dana White to entice him to make a comeback, with his last outing coming at UFC 254 in October where he unified the 155-pound crowns with a triangle win over Justin Gaethje.
Former interim champion, Ferguson has since lost two on the trot, in quite surprising, dominant fashion. Dropping a fifth round knockout loss to Gaethje in a damaging affair, the Oxnard native then suffered a one-sided unanimous judging defeat to the streaking, Charles Oliveira in December last.
Despite previously noting his intrigue in a matchup against Ferguson, whom he once claimed was “one of the best in the world” and how his legacy wouldn’t be complete without a matchup against the Californian, Khabib recently claimed that he never considered Ferguson to be of an elite standard at lightweight.
“Maybe that would be Tony Ferguson, but I swear that I never considered him as an elite lightweight,” Khabib said during a recent sitdown with Magomed Ismailov. “He was very good, but I never counted him so, because it’s impossible to be an elite at 37 years (old).“
“It’s never been before and Khabib cannot do this. At 37 years (old) in the lightweight division, no way, but heavyweights can. It’s my opinion and you cannot change it. Secondly, since 2016 he fought Kevin Lee, Edson Barboza, Anthony Pettis, and Donald Cerrone and these four fighters have twenty losses for these four years (combined). It means that since 2016 he didn’t have good fighters.“
“But now, he faced young and top fighters, I mean Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje. They outclassed him, you saw this. Both fighters just dominated Tony. I was just dreaming about this fight. But it wasn’t destined, we had injuries in a row.“