Saturday Night at UFC 274 Tony Ferguson will return to the octagon against Michael Chandler in what is arguably a must-win fight for both men.
Ferguson, who is currently riding the first losing streak of his professional career, has many wondering what’s left for the former UFC Interim-Lightweight Champion. He is almost exactly two-years removed from his Interim-Title fight loss against Justin Gaethje, and has since come up short against current-champion Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush in fights that were not overly competitive.
If the history of MMA has anything to say about the matter, the 38-year-old Ferguson is likely on the tail-end of his career, but after witnessing the resurgence of Glover Teixera over the past two years, you can never say never. The fact that he took a fight against Chandler, who was a unicorn’s eyelash away from becoming the Lightweight Champion in his fight against Charles Oliveira and had the fight of the year with Gaethje within the last 365 days, shows that he has no interest in a tune-up fight.
With a win on Saturday, Ferguson likely would put himself back into the top-five of the division. But because of his previous three performances he will need to give the UFC a very good reason to consider him for a title opportunity. Can he get back there? And who can he beat that will prove he deserves that shot?
If Ferguson defeats Michael Chandler:
Dustin Poirier, Rafael Dos Anjos or Conor McGregor
With a phenomenal performance on Saturday, Tony Ferguson would be faced with a problem of his own creation. The lightweight division is an absolute buzz-saw full of all time greats and hungry young talent. Luckily, as we all know, Ferguson has no interest in fighting anything other than the best in the world.
A fight against Dustin Poirier would be an incredible fight and a logical next step if Ferguson turns back the clock against Chandler. The two had gone back and forth on Twitter in the fall of 2020 when there had been rumors of the UFC eyeing that fight for the undercard of Khabib vs. Gaethje. Since his title-fight loss to Oliveira, Poirier has stated he isn’t just looking for another fight and he needs something to get excited about. Since it appears the UFC isn’t interested in making a fight between him and Nate Diaz, the prospect of facing a rejuvenated Tony Ferguson may be just what he’s looking for.
A matchup with Rafael Dos Anjos would be a rematch of a 2016 fight that Ferguson won by unanimous decision, which earned him an Interim-Title shot and marked RDA’s last fight at Lightweight before a stint at Welterweight. Since returning to Lightweight, RDA has looked phenomenal and is currently sitting at #6 in the division. The rematch of OGs would certainly be a phenomenal fight and would propel either fighter one step further in their attempt at a late-career resurgence.
Now, it may be easy to forget how exciting the prospect of a Lightweight Title Unification bout between Conor McGregor and Ferguson was in 2017. In many ways Ferguson was a casualty of the animosity and incredible storyline that was McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (and also a casualty of a camera cord before UFC 223). But now in 2022, a renewed Tony Ferguson could be the perfect comeback fight for McGregor. It would be a huge fight with an incredible storyline and so much history, and the popularity gained from defeating Conor McGregor could absolutely propel Ferguson into a world title fight.
If Ferguson loses to Michael Chandler:
If he loses on Saturday, his career is certainly in a tough spot, but he has still only lost to fighters in the top five or six in the world. Despite it appearing like he may be done, you can truly never say never in MMA, and there are some options.
Dan Hooker, Nathan Diaz
Both Hooker and Ferguson are in need of a big win, and both men always seem to end up across the cage from absolute killers. Ferguson, potentially going in on a four-fight skid, would need a drastic change if he still wants to fight for the belt as he approaches 40. Hooker certainly still has the utmost respect of the MMA community. He defeated the very game Nasrat Haqparast rather dominantly in September, and a win over Hooker is definitely still meaningful. A fight with Dan Hooker is a great option for Ferguson if his fighting career continues after four straight losses.
Now, if we want to really have some fun, a fight between Ferguson and Nate Diaz would be simply incredible. It seems unlikely that a fight with Nate would be possible because of his contract issues and now it seems his final fight in the UFC may be against Khamzat Chimaev (which is not something fans particularly want). But if that fight doesn’t materialize, Ferguson heading back up to Welterweight to fight Nate Diaz in a battle of OGs would be an absolute dream fight. The respect that the MMA community has for both fighters and the lead-up to the fight could make for a special moment that we don’t often get in this sport.
Tony Ferguson is a bona fide legend, and one of the greatest lightweights of all time. When it comes to MMA we never want to start reminiscing on someone’s career too quickly, and certainly not when the fighter hasn’t given up on the dream themselves. It wasn’t that long ago he was on a 12-fight winning streak and it was thought that he may be the best lightweight in the world. Every time Ferguson steps into the cage it is can’t-miss.
Saturday night at UFC 274 will almost certainly be more of the same.
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