Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson is, possibly, the most anticipated fight in MMA history. Sure, there have been bigger fights from a monetary standpoint – anytime Conor McGregor is involved, for instance – and there have been a number of wishlist fights that have finally come to fruition – think Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva – but Khabib vs. Tony has something those other fights don’t have: a history of disappointment.
Four times the UFC has booked Khabib vs. Tony and four times the fight has fallen through. Now, the UFC is trying their luck one more time, booking Khabib vs. Tony for fifth time, as the main event of UFC 249 in April. This time though, things might be a little different.
In previous schedulings, Khabib and Tony were much more acrimonious towards one another, trash talking the other over pulling out of fights, etc… But recently it seems the talk has simmered down some, perhaps because it’s hard to hold a grudge that long without actually fighting. Or perhaps it’s because both men have to respect what the other has accomplished, even if they maybe wouldn’t get along personally.
”I don’t have nothing personal with him, you know?” Khabib told RT Sport recently. ”Tony is great fighter. Honestly, I don’t like him personally. I don’t understand his mind, what is inside his head but I don’t need this. I don’t need this. I’m going to focus on the fight. When the cage closes, I’m going to do my job like always.”
But whether he will get that chance is another thing entirely. April is a long way off and the fight is set to take place in Brooklyn, tempting fate with the notoriously difficult New York State Athletic Commission. And the this fight already has a long history of disappointing the fans.
The first time was at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale, where Nurmagomedov was forced to withdraw due to a rib injury a few months beforehand. At the time, both men were on six-fight winning streaks. Then, four months later, the bout was rebooked, this time for UFC on FOX 19. Unfortunately, two weeks before that fight, Ferguson suffered an issue in training where blood was pooling in his lungs, and was forced out of the fight. Next, the fight was rebooked once again, this time for an interim lightweight title at UFC 209. Yet again though the MMA gods intervened, cancelling the bout on weigh-in day when Nurmagomedov had a failed weight-cut that caused the doctors to pull him from the bout. At this point the bout was starting to feel cursed and wasn’t booked again for another year, this time for the undisputed lightweight title at UFC 223. The MMA gods are nothing if not persistent though as Ferguson tore a ligament in his knee just a week before the event.
All told, both Ferguson and Nurmagomedov have fought six different opponents since they were first scheduled to face each other, running their respective winning streaks to 12 and both claiming gold in the process (Ferguson’s interim belt was vacated). It’s a set up that has Khabib’s father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov calling this the most important fight in UFC history and the lightweight champion is hopeful that this time, it may actually happen.
“This is very important fight for UFC, for fans, for me, for Tony,” Nurmagomedov said. “That’s why we signed this agreement. I hope finally we’re going to fight in April.”
So does everyone else.
Photo Credit: Esther Lin, MMA Fighting