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8 Sep, 2019 11:39

Tony Ferguson, not Conor McGregor, is the sole remaining challenge to Khabib Nurmagomedov in the UFC

Tony Ferguson, not Conor McGregor, is the sole remaining challenge to Khabib Nurmagomedov in the UFC

Tony Ferguson must be next in line for UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov after the undefeated Russian fighter earned the second defense of his 155lb title against Dustin Poirier at UFC 242.

Nurmagomedov increased his reputation as the most unsolvable puzzle in mixed martial arts history inside a sweltering stadium in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, sinking in a third-round rear-naked choke to claim victory against a fighter who has been a standout at 155lbs in recent years and became an interim champion during Khabib’s absence due to suspension.

Save for a tricky guillotine position and a couple of punches which found their target, what marked Nurmagomedov's performance against the fiercely motivated Poirier was the ease in which Khabib was able to command the fight into positions which suited his strengths.

Also on rt.com Khabib vaults cage again to celebrate submitting Poirier to become undisputed champ at UFC 242

Poirier would often find himself with his back to the cage which would invite the Russian's blindingly quick double leg, to which the American had no answer. On his feet, Khabib isn’t a particularly refined striker, but to engage with him in boxing is to open up your lower half to a takedown. From there his opponents are helpless, as if mired in quicksand.

Khabib’s career ledger now reads 28 fights without defeat, and if there is to ever be a mark in his loss column it will most likely come against a fighter who doesn’t attempt to avoid the Russian fighter’s strengths but instead embraces them. 

READ MORE: Khabib Nurmagomedov – The five fights that made 'The Eagle' soar to greatness

There isn’t a pure wrestler in the lightweight division – or perhaps even the UFC as a whole – who is quite as polished as Nurmagomedov. There is no 3-month training camp to prepare for this type of style, no drills that you can add to your training to simulate adequately what it feels like to be suffocated under his top control. 

Dustin Poirier felt this on Saturday. Conor McGregor, the same last year. One man remains in the lightweight division merry-go-round: Tony Ferguson.

Also on rt.com 'I’m sorry for anyone I let down': Poirer gives tearful speech after UFC 242 loss to Khabib (VIDEO)

One gets the sense that a pure striker, like Poirier and McGregor, enter a fight with Nurmagomedov at an extreme stylistic disadvantage but Ferguson, who is among the most dangerous ground fighters in the UFC, is perhaps the only contender at 155lb who can pose real problems to Khabib in the grappling exchanges which he pursues.

Of course, this fight doesn't come without its risks. On four separate occasions a fight between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov has been booked by the UFC and four times it has fallen apart due to the health conditions of one or the other fighter, prompting UFC president Dana White to wonder aloud if his attempts to pair the two fighters are 'cursed'.

However, any superstitions obstructing this fight's booking must be abandoned. Both men are currently in the midst of 12-fight win streaks and have set themselves apart as the undoubted best at 155lbs while Ferguson, the Eddie Bravo protege, is perhaps the only man in the division capable of providing a riposte to Khabib's oppressive grappling. 

Despite Conor McGregor openly campaigning for a rematch, it is increasingly clear that strikers are at a disadvantage when they enter the cage with Khabib.


The volatile Dubliner certainly wants a continuation of the blood feud which dominated the pair's rivalry, but UFC 242 gave no evidence that a second meeting between the two would turn out any different from the first.

It is Tony Ferguson’s turn, and should Khabib Nurmagomedov ever be handed a defeat in his professional career, it will almost certainly be a fighter with El Cucuy’s skillset that does it. 

And after another dominant performance from the Russian champion, one really gets the sense that there has never been a better time to book Khabib vs. Ferguson – even if it took five attempts to get here.

Also on rt.com ‘In Dagestan, you have to fight for respect’ – meet Nurmagomedov Jr.