Khabib vs Tony Ferguson fight: matchup and predictions

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson Fight/Predictions

Now that Khabib Nurmagomedov has defended his lightweight belt against his toughest and most skillful opponent to date, Conor McGregor, he has a plethora of title defense options to choose from.

Some fans are calling for Khabib to move up and face Ben Askren; others are clamoring for him to take-on all-time-great Georges St. Pierre (sadly, GSP recently announced his retirement); and different fans yet are eager to see him and longtime rival Tony Ferguson, who beat Anthony Pettis in UFC 229’s co-main event, finally settle their business. This latter choice is especially intriguing.

For readers who aren’t aware, Khabib and Ferguson’s rivalry dates back more than half a decade, and although they’ve both been at the top of the division for that time (Ferguson hasn’t lost since 2012, and Khabib hasn’t lost at all), they still haven’t fought.

In one of the oddest and most unfortunate sagas in MMA history, Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have been booked to compete four times so far, with the latest planned outing being at UFC 223, but both men have been forced to withdraw for a multitude of reasons. Some fans and pundits have stated that the bout is cursed, and there might be something to the claim. Even Dana White once mentioned that he “will never make Khabib vs Ferguson fight ever again”.

With that said, perhaps we’ve been granted with a chance to break any potential curse that’s inhibiting the bout’s occurrence. Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have won consistently and impressively for some time now, and especially because they’re the two best Lightweights in the UFC, that’s a feat to be proud of.

Let’s take a look at how a legacy fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson could play out!

History

Khabib and Tony were scheduled to fight four times to this date – both fighters pulled out twice.

1) Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson 1:0.

At the Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale which was set for December 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. At the time, Khabib was struggling with a bunch of serious injuries which almost ended his career. Khabib pulled out from the fight with Ferguson at the end of October because he broke a rib while training. In one of the interviews, Khabib said: “I’m not sure I’ll be back at all ever, thank you very much to all my fans”. Tony Ferguson at the time was on a 6-fight winning streak and ranked #9 in the Lightweight rankings. He ended up fighting with Edson Barboza and Tony submitted him in the 2nd round.

2) Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson 1:1.

At the UFC on Fox 19 which was set to go down on April 16, 2016, in Tampa. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson fight was canceled for the second time – “El Cucuy” withdraw on 11 days notice because he had fluid and blood in his lungs. Ferguson was replaced by Darrell Horcher; Khabib took this fight at catchweight 160 lbs and got a win via TKO in the 2nd round.

3) Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson 2:1.

At the UFC 209 on March 4, 2017, in Las Vegas which was meant to be an interim lightweight championship fight. It seemed like it was actually going to happen… Until Khabib pulled out a night before weigh-ins because of the health issues related to cutting weight. “The Eagle” was hospitalized with severe liver pain and dehydration. Tony handled this situation like a true champ.

4) Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson 2:2.

At the UFC 223 on April 7, 2018, in New York for the UFC Lightweight belt. 6 days prior to the fight Tony Ferguson had to withdraw because of the knee injury – he tripped while walking and tore his lateral collateral ligament. Dana White soon announced that Ferguson will be stripped of the interim title. UFC replaced Tony with Max Holloway but Max also pulled because of the weight cut issues. For the LW championship belt, Khabib ended up facing Al Iaquinta and he won the title fight via unanimous decision.

What happened since Nurmagomedov became an undisputed champion? Tony Ferguson recovered from the knee injury and fought on the same card at UFC 229 as Khabib vs McGregor. “El Cucuy” was very impressive in his win over Anthony Pettis which got him back in a picture as a contender for the lightweight title.

So, what happens next? Will we finally see Nurmagomedov and Ferguson facing each inside the octagon? I very much think so, this fight HAS TO HAPPEN. Khabib really wanted a legacy fight with GSP but got a denial from the UFC probably because they want him to face Tony. Khabib and Tony are both have incredible streaks going and they are clearly the best lightweights in the UFC #rightnow that’s why their potential bout can be considered as a legacy fight as well.

Khabib vs Ferguson at press conference

Khabib vs Ferguson: styles and matchup

Khabib Nurmagomedov is first and foremost a wrestler and he is extremely comfortable with his ground game. The Dagestani competitor has been wrestling since he was young, and his years upon years of experience show today, every time he powers fantastic fighters to the canvas without breaking a sweat. Khabib also has decent striking (his boxing seems to be getting better with time) – we saw as much against Al Iaquinta and Conor McGregor but his grappling is his bread and butter, and it’s also the reason he is still undefeated.

Tony Ferguson, on the other hand, is a well-rounded brawler. “El Cucuy” is an appropriate nickname for Ferguson, who is the closest thing to a monster that we’ve seen inside the Octagon, what with his stalking style and overwhelming pressure. Tony has great takedowns and defensive grappling – he trains with BJJ powerhouse Eddie Bravo and has submitted Edson Barboza, but he most often rushes across the Octagon, bites down on his mouthpiece, and tries to find a home for thunderous punches and kicks.

To be sure, a big part of the reason Ferguson is such a fan favorite is that he shows his opponents very little respect; he throws caution to the wind and gives the men who stand opposite him a fight unlike any other.

Predictions for Khabib vs Ferguson fight

For as underrated as Khabib Nurmagomedov’s striking is, he doesn’t want to stand across the cage from Tony Ferguson, for a couple different reasons.

First, Tony can hit anyone from anywhere; he’s quick, his timing is impeccable, and he cuts tremendous angles that constantly leave even the best stand-up fighters guessing. It will be a huge risk for Khabib to play stand-up games in the first rounds.

Second, Khabib is a wrestler by nature, and the truth is that unless he decides to move up to welterweight division, he’s going to possess a grappling advantage over everyone he faces. Thus, if he’s standing up and boxing, he’s playing to Ferguson’s strength – not his own.

Nurmagomedov will probably initiate the contest by charging Ferguson, timing a takedown, and assuming top control. Tony will try to resist, and he may have some success, but the reality is that no man has been able to defend Khabib’s takedowns.

From the bottom, though, Ferguson will have options. He can immediately fall into D’Arce choke formation – he submitted Lando Vanatta and Edson Barboza with the maneuver, and try to submit Khabib. Additionally, even if said attempts aren’t successful in drawing a tap, they can help Ferguson to improve his position and stand up. He can also kick Nurmagomedov off and stand up, but that’s easier said than done.

Ferguson probably won’t expect to win a decision, and that’ll show in his approach to the match; just as no one has been able to thwart Khabib’s takedowns and only Conor McGregor was able to win a round against “The Eagle”.

Fans should expect Ferguson to work hard to land a big shot or tight submission on Khabib early, attempt to wear the Russian down if these attempts fail, and then unload during the latter portion of the fourth and all of the fifth stanzas.

Nurmagomedov has been known to slow down late in contests, and with his famously fantastic cardio, Tony will probably try to take advantage of this. For Khabib, a finish is almost out of the question. Ferguson hasn’t been knocked out yet, and it doesn’t look as though he’ll be stopped with strikes in the near future. More dangerously, Khabib could well gas himself out if he expends too much energy searching for the knockout.

Who will win?

With all this considered, either man can win; whoever is able to better impose his gameplan from the get-go will have his hand raised.

For Khabib, this means staying calm and keeping energy up across twenty-five minutes of combat. For Ferguson, this means working consistently and diligently while not becoming overly susceptible to takedowns.

Despite the 11-fight winning streak, bookmakers see Tony Ferguson as an underdog against Nurmagomedov. Prior to their latest canceled fight in 2018, Nurmagomedov was set at -200 and Ferguson was at +165.

Since then, Khabib won and defended his LW title, upgraded his stand-up and boxing, stayed healthy and avoided injuries. Tony, on the other hand, suffered a serious injury, went through knee surgery but come back strong with a win vs Pettis. By the way, it’s worth mentioning that Tony’s fight against Pettis wasn’t one-sided – Anthony was close to winning and who knows what would have happened if he didn’t break his hand during one of the exchanges.

Stylistically, Ferguson is not the worst matchup for Khabib and that’s the reason why Khabib is a favorite to win according to bookmakers and most experts.

Here is Ben Askren’s opinion on who will win Khabib vs Ferguson fight.

There’s no telling what the future will bring for the UFC’s lightweight division, which has long been its most competitive class but is now, additionally, its most profitable division.

Superfights and special match-ups, not to mention injuries and other setbacks, can impact the process through which contenders are selected. But, if the UFC decides to follow the rankings and let the champion, Nurmagomedov, and number-one-contender, Ferguson, entertain fans, one of the best fights in promotional history could result.

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