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'I've got to earn my right back': Disgruntled Tony Ferguson says he is charting a route directly back to Khabib Nurmagomedov

'I've got to earn my right back': Disgruntled Tony Ferguson says he is charting a route directly back to Khabib Nurmagomedov
Lightweight contender Tony Ferguson says that he has to earn his way back to a fight with UFC champion and perennial rival Khabib Nurmagomedov but has hit out at the options offered by the UFC to him to help navigate his journey.

The repeated failures to book a fight between 155lbs foes Ferguson and Nurmagomedov has become something of the holy grail in the mixed martial arts landscape. Five times the UFC have attempted to pair the two fighters, and five times it has fallen apart. 

The most recent instance of this was earlier this year when Nurmagomedov bowed out of their fight due to issues related to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. This led to Ferguson instead taking a fight with Justin Gaethje and, as fate would have it, 'El Cucuy' was defeated in the Octagon for the first time in eight years, scuppering any possibility that a sixth booking would be arranged anytime soon.

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Now one rung further down the ladder on the lightweight rankings, Ferguson knows that a restorative win against a fellow top contender is required to remind fans and matchmakers alike of his efficacy in the cage - which is why he says he is frustrated at the options being presented to him by the UFC.

Ferguson was heavily linked with fighting on the co-main event of the UFC 254 where Khabib will defend his lightweight title against the man who took his spot, Gaethje, against Dustin Poirier but a pay dispute between Poirier and the UFC shuddered that particular train to a halt. UFC newcomer (and former Bellator champion) Michael Chandler was also presented as an option.

But as he told ESPN, neither situation is satisfactory.

"I’m going to be real," Ferguson said. "I don’t know what their plans were before or after, but I was already ready. I was already counting on it. Seriously, I planned around it. I’m not much of a planner, so I was already going ahead of it, but then Dana wanted to speak for me.

"He wanted to go out there and be like, ‘Tony is going to take this fight.’ Like, bro, we’re not friends. I never said we were friends.

"It’s just business, right? I’m there when you need me, and then obviously when you don’t. Seriously, man. I’m a contractor. I do my thing. I love him and I love UFC and stuff like that, but I’m just a piece of meat out there. Do you know what I mean?"

With Poirier out of the equation, Ferguson explains his reaction when Chandler was presented as an option and, to his mind at least, the money on offer wasn't sufficient for a 17-fight UFC veteran to take on a promotional newcomer.

"The UFC kept delaying telling us the [Poirier] fight was confirmed," he said. "It was like, the minute they asked, I’m still training for Dustin, for the Chandler thing. Now, they’re bringing in a new dude, who I have no f*cking clue who he is.

"I’m not trying to sh*t on him from a marketing standpoint, but the dude has less than 100,000 [followers] on Twitter. You’re going to try to get him more notoriety by throwing him against me and throw him on the Khabib card. I get that, but don’t pay the [guy] more than us. He has zero time in the UFC."

That said, Ferguson maintains that he will fight any fighter near the top of the rankings - Khabib, Gaethje, Poirier, Chandler and maybe even McGregor - but underscores that the bottom line of his bout agreement must make it worthwhile.

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"Everybody wants me to fight Khabib right?” Ferguson said. “But I’ve got to earn my right back. OK, cool. Who’s it going to be? Dustin? Or is it going to be Chandler? I don’t give a sh*t.

"I said it was a tournament. Now we’re adding in people. Alright, cool. Here we go again. Today marks the celebration, right? Khabib and McGregor. That sh*t wouldn’t have happened unless they stripped my belt. So, f*ck you. Pay me instead of this f*cking clown.

"I’m coming for [the belt]. So both [Gaethje] and f*ckng fathead [Khabib], this is a message for both of you knuckleheads. It’s my mat and my time."