Tony Ferguson struggles to hate on Conor McGregor for turning his dream of competing against Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match into reality. However, he hopes that once “The Notorious” is done with his crossover into the ring, he comes back to the octagon to defend his UFC lightweight title.Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) has been gunning for a crack at the UFC belt during his current nine-fight winning streak at 155 pounds. McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) has been absent from the division since capturing the title from Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November, and in the meantime “El Cucuy” has attempted to position himself as the next to challenge for the gold.He came close to locking up the No. 1 contender spot when he was scheduled to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the interim lightweight title at UFC 209 in March. But the fight fell apart the day of the weigh-ins when Nurmagomedov botched his weight cut and was hospitalized. Ferguson, No. 2 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA lightweight rankings, encouraged No.1-ranked McGregor to give up on the Mayweather fight and come back to the UFC and defend his title. But now that it’s clear what the Irishman has planned for immediate future, Ferguson said it’s time for the division to move on.
“I have to say congratulations (to McGregor); that’s a (expletive) of money for them,” Ferguson told MMAjunkie. “That’s a lot of (expletive) lettuce, but don’t forget about the UFC cage, because you’re holding onto my belt. I’m over here. Let’s fight for an interim belt while Conor is doing his other thing. Let’s get something going. The interim title is vacant. That (expletive) needs to be in my hands. (I’m on a) nine-fight winning streak, and 10 sounds better, so let’s get it moving.”After the Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov fight fell apart earlier this year, the UFC worked on booking a bout with No. 7-ranked Nate Diaz (19-11 MMA, 14-9 UFC) at UFC 213 in July. The promotion couldn’t reach terms with Diaz, though, and Ferguson has been left in limbo since. “The Ultimate Fighter 13” winner said he’s not holding out hope that Diaz will change his mind, and while he would be open to re-booking a showdown with Nurmagomedov, he said at this point he just wants to compete for a belt.
“I want the interim title fight,” Ferguson said. “They offered it to Nate Diaz I’m not sure what his problem is. I’m not sure if he’s ever going to fight again. I really don’t think he will, or Nick (Diaz), because I think they’re just so busy doing their things. They just want to keep their legacies secure and they don’t want to add another loss to their records. They’ve got plenty of them. At least Nate does. I’m 23-3, nine (wins) in a row, and my skills are getting way, way better. … There needs to be a real champ in this division, and I’m that guy.”
As Ferguson, 33, attempts to sort out his own future, he admitted he will keep an eye on McGregor. Like many others, Ferguson is keen to see what happens when an MMA fighter with no pro boxing bouts enters the ring against one of the best to ever compete in the sport. The Aug. 26 match with Mayweather, which takes place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and airs on pay-per-view, is just over two months away, and if McGregor is going to stand even the slightest chance, Ferguson said he needs to make rapid improvements.
“I have to say that Conor’s boxing is not up to par,” Ferguson said. “It is not up to par to how Mayweather’s boxing is going to be. … I’ve got to give him the benefit of the doubt: Stay hungry, stay on that (expletive), try to knock his ass out. Mayweather, the same thing Conor is going to try to knock you out, dude, so both of you boys are going to have your hands full. Better train your asses off. We want to see a good fight. If I’m going to spend my money on it, I want to see a good fight.”
Although Ferguson doesn’t like McGregor’s odds of giving Mayweather a competitive fight, he said he admires his willingness to step outside his comfort zone and take on a seemingly impossible task. McGregor turned what was once considered an impossible idea into his reality, and while Ferguson said he can’t help but respect that, he also thinks McGregor bit off more than he can chew.
“Conor is not going to lose anything off it because he’s taking a chance in another sport, and I have to give homeboy credit, because that’s cool,” Ferguson said. “I was always a multi-sport athlete when I was younger, and this right here is dope. I would love to box. I want to go into GLORY and I want to kickbox. I don’t like sitting on the sidelines. I like to stay active. I have to say that with Conor, you have to step up your boxing skills. You’re messing with a lion in there. MMA is a completely different sport. You are a striker, son, not a boxer. This is boxing. You’re not going to be able to go in there and strike. It’s a different sport and a different animal.”
Sports business analysts have already forecasted a potential $100 million payday for McGregor should his boxing match with Mayweather live up to potential metrics. If the payout is anywhere close to that number, McGregor’s financial security would presumably be secured for life, and therefore his incentive to return to the UFC would be dampened.Ferguson said he’s not worried about McGregor leaving the sport permanently, though, because even if his pockets are filled, he said he believes the UFC champ also has a competitive desire that can’t be fulfilled by money. UFC President Dana White has said that McGregor has every intention of defending his UFC title before the end of the year, and while it remains to be seen if that’s true, Ferguson said he’s confident he will eventually see McGregor inside the octagon.
“Win or lose, I think Conor is an athlete; I think he’s going to have it in his head that he’s not going to have to sit on the sidelines,” Ferguson said. “I see it in Conor’s face, I see it in his mannerisms that he’s hungry, that’s he’s always going to want to dig to try and get the bigger, better picture. He’s made that money, so maybe he’s not trying to look after the money part. He wants to secure that legacy and he wants to go down in the books.
“I say if you want to go down in the books after your boxing match, come over to MMA and test it one more time. You have to test it one or two more times against top-notch competitors. People that make the weight, that show up. … Handle your business, come back to the UFC. We’re all going to be sitting here waiting, watching, and make that money, do your thing and don’t be scared. Come back and play that game a little bit more. I would hate to see that talent go to (expletive). You’ve got a lot of talent, you’ve got a lot of energy, and come back and use it in the 155-pound division. Let’s fight over that belt, baby. Let’s go.”For more on “The Money Fight: Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor,” check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.