The Fallout From The Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson Cancellation
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson is officially off Saturday’s UFC 209 card after Nurmagomedov was taken to the hospital earlier in the day due to a tough weight cut. The co-main event, for the interim lightweight title, was the fight a lot of fans were most looking forward to. The fallout from this could be tremendous. Except that this is MMA, so nothing will truly change. Let’s speculate anyway.
The buyrate for this show wasn’t going to be very good despite two excellent fights at the top of the card. Dana White has spent all week bickering and burying Tyron Woodley while Stephen Thompson hasn’t exactly done much to make himself known. Their first fight won Fight of the Night honors at UFC 205, but rematches of fantastic fights between unproven draws doesn’t mean increased interest.
The first Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson fight did 375,000 buys. The immediate rematch did 190,000. Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 2 did 270,000 buys. The immediate rematch did 225,000. The rematch between “Shogun” Rua vs. Lyoto Machida was only 20,000 buys better than the original, and that had the added benefit of Kimbo Slice on the undercard.
With Khabib vs. Ferguson off the card, the buyrate is going to take an even bigger dip. It not only robs the fans of a great co-main event, it weakens the rest of the card. Now, the UFC will either proceed with a four fight main card or bump up a prelim fight that no one cares about. Woodley vs. Thompson 2 was never going to exceed the buyrate of the first fight (unless Conor McGregor is quickly added to the event), but now it’ll be hard pressed to crack 250,000 buys.
Technically, he’s now the UFC interim lightweight champion. So, congratulations? If I’m Ferguson, I’m holding out until I get that McGregor fight. After Johny Hendricks missed weight for his fight against Woodley, Woodley sat out well over a year while he waited for his title shot. Robbie Lawler went through two wars with Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit, while Woodley twiddled his thumbs. Woodley is now the welterweight champion.
Ferguson has the resume to be the number one contender. He did everything he needed to do to prepare for UFC 209. It’s not his fault that Khabib couldn’t make weight, and he shouldn’t be punished for it. Sit out. Wait for that title fight. Let Conor get punched in the head a bunch of times by Floyd Mayweather. And prepare to welcome him back.
Ferguson has the same leverage that Woodley had after Hendricks missed weight. He shouldn’t let it go to waste. Woodley was smart. He didn’t take the “I’ll fight anyone attitude” that way too many fighters stupidly have. He took the, “I want to be champion and make money attitude” that every fighter should have. Be smart, Tony.
I wouldn’t say Khabib’s career is over, but he’s going to have a tough time securing big fights from here on out. He’s only 28, but his injury history and now weight cutting issues don’t reflect well on him. Despite being a stylistic nightmare for McGregor, Khabib likely blew his shot at getting the fight. Conor was already bullish on the fight due to Khabib’s history of pulling out, but this will almost guarantee that Conor continues to decline the fight unless Khabib goes three-five fights without an issue.
It’s possible that the UFC forces Khabib to move up to 170. They’ve had no problem telling guys with weight issues to move up before, and given that this weight cut was so tough that it hospitalized him, it may not be the worst move in the world. This could severely limit Khabib’s ceiling given how much he relies upon his strength, chin, and grappling at 155. If he’s unable to ragdoll bigger opponents, or if his chin can’t hold up to some of the heavy hitters at welterweight, he may be a mid-level guy at 170 instead of the best at 155.
People are going to freak out and say, “guys shouldn’t cut so much weight just to gain an advantage.” It’s a fair point, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Weight cutting can be a dangerous practice, but it’s made tougher with the banning of IV rehydration and early weigh-ins. The two things do go hand-in-hand.
Early weigh-ins were adopted thanks in large part due to USADA banning IV rehydration. The thought process was that giving fighters an extra eight hours to rehydrate would make them more comfortable. It’s a good thought, but it also screwed up the weight cutting procedure of many fighters. Instead of having the morning and afternoon to cut those extra pounds, they would have to cut the weight overnight and hope that the weight holds during the night. If it doesn’t, they have less time in the morning to cut the weight. That’s why we’re seeing more fighters than ever drop out of fights due to missed weight.
This could be solved by giving fighters the option to weigh-in early or weigh-in late. If they don’t think they can make weight until the televised weigh-in, give them the extra eight hours to cut the weight. If they want to weigh-in early so they have more time to relax and rehydrate, tell them to have it. There are benefits to both, let the fighters decide which one benefits them more.
You thought Conor had leverage before? The UFC created an interim lightweight title less than six months after McGregor won the undisputed lightweight title because they’re worried that McGregor isn’t going to return until the summer. And because they love interim titles. The thought process was they would unify the belts at some point. It didn’t work at featherweight, but second time’s the charm, right?
That’s been killed.
Conor is going to make sure Tony Ferguson fights again before he defends the belt against him. As smart as it would be for Ferguson to sit out, he may not have a choice. If he wants the title shot and the McGregor fight, he may be forced to take another fight. Conor is going to rule that without this fight, there is no undisputed number one contender, and he’s not defending the belt until one emerges. And the UFC is going to bow to his wishes.
In the meantime, Conor will continue to angle for the Mayweather fight. Or….
Oddly enough, if Woodley wins on Saturday, he might be the biggest overall winner from this whole mess.
If Woodley defeats Thompson and continues to egg on the Irish king, Conor may get worked up enough to step up. I’d say the same applies to Thompson, but he hasn’t talked up the fight like Woodley has, and he seems like the type of guy who would rather face top contenders than collect money.
Conor wants big fights and title belts. Woodley has already been talking up a potential fight betweem himself and McGregor. Conor isn’t going up to 185 to fight Michael Bisping or Georges St-Pierre – although, he might – so Woodley and the 170lb title is his next best option.
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