The men’s lightweight division is the only title vacancy in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Traditionally, some of the most popular performers in the sport have hailed from this division. From Khabib Nurmagomedov to Conor McGregor, some of the most spectacular fights in the history of the organization have come from this group of elite athletes.
This weekend’s main event in Houston a king of the division will be crowned when Charles Oliveira takes on Michael Chandler for the vacant belt. In fact, four of the top ten fighters in the division are scheduled to fight on the upcoming main card event. By the end of the evening, not only will there be a new champion, there will also be a clearer understanding of who the top challengers in the division are.
One lightweight fighter who finds himself in a must win situation this weekend is Tony Ferguson. Currently ranked fifth in the division, an impressive victory could put him back in the upper echelon of title contenders. However, a loss would be a huge disappointment, the type of setback that could hurt his title chances for a very long time.
Once upon a time, Tony Ferguson was the reigning UFC lightweight champion of the world. Six months after winning the vacant crown against Kevin Lee, he was scheduled to face a highly touted up and comer by the name of Khabib Nurmagomedov. While Khabib was undefeated up until that point, there was a large contingent of fans who fully expected the champion to successfully defend his belt. However, a week before the fight, Ferguson suffered a torn fibular collateral ligament. With the mantra that “the show must go on” fully in tow, Ferguson was stripped of the title due to inability to perform. Khabib would go on to win the newly vacated belt. He proved to be an indomitable champion, never losing again until his eventual retirement more than two years later.
Tony Ferguson’s untimely injury back in April of 2018, forever changed the trajectory of his career. Since that day, his quest to once again be known as a champion has fallen short. Let’s take a closer look at the reasons why this weekend’s bout against Beneil Dariush is a must-win for the fighter known as El Cucuy.
He can’t afford a third consecutive loss
After being stripped of the UFC lightweight championship, Ferguson won his next two bouts. He looked like he’d gotten his mojo back and the organization was ready to reward him for his efforts. He was given the main event fight against Justin Gaethje. Unfortunately for Ferguson, the event did not go as planned. A powerful fifth-round punch by Gaethje in round five ended the bout before it could ever reach the judges’ scorecards. Ferguson’s twelve fight win streak was over.
In December of 2020, Ferguson was given a chance at redemption when he was pitted against the highly touted Charles Oliveira. He found himself on the wrong side of a one-sided affair; Oliveira walked away with the unanimous decision victory.
Ferguson has managed to remain relevant and currently finds himself as the fifth-ranked fighter in the division. Great performance this weekend could catapult him back into serious contention for the belt. However, a third consecutive loss could see him fall out of the top ten altogether.
His opponent is on a six-fight win streak
The last time Beneil Dariush lost a match, Jeff Bezos had not yet become the richest man in the world and “Havana” was still the hottest song on the radio. Not only has he won six consecutive fights in a row, but he’s done so in spectacular fashion. Four of the six wins have come by submission or knockout. Simply put, he means business and is not to be taken lightly.
Dariush is the type of opponent who can help build a resume or can help destroy one. He’s not yet one of the biggest names in the division but he is very well respected. If Tony Ferguson performs well against him, he can point to the match as a quality win. However, if Ferguson loses, his critics will circle the event as a match in which he lost to the underdog.
A chance to perform in the co-main event
Dana White is notorious for giving fans what they want. If Ferguson wants a shot at the title, he’s going to have to have fans clamoring to see him against the champion in the octagon. The best way to do that is to put on a show while getting as much exposure as possible.
This weekend, his matchup against Beneil Dariush is the co-main event. While fans may not be fixated on the screen for the preliminary fights, by the end of the night they are completely tuned in to every kick, punch and grappling exchange in the octagon. Tony Ferguson has the chance to grab the attention of the entire mixed martial arts world this weekend. It’s an opportunity he should not take lightly.
Backing up a heated press conference exchange
Rarely does a fighter need more motivation to perform well than what he can gather by simply looking at his opponent?
However, at this week’s press conference Tony Ferguson made it clear he has more than just Beneil Dariush on his mind as he prepares for the fight. More than anything, he’s upset that Michael Chandler is getting a title shot in just his second fight in the organization. There were rumors that Chandler was going to fight Ferguson for his UFC debut. Instead, he fought Dan Hooker in a one-sided affair.
Chandler was one of the most popular fighters in Bellator’s lightweight division and Dana White plans to capitalize on his popularity after recruiting him over to UFC. Tony’s accusations that Chandler dodged him when he joined UFC stole all of the press conference headlines this week. If he wants to prove himself a fighter worthy of dodging, Ferguson is going to have to put on a show this weekend.
He’s not getting any younger
If Tony Ferguson wants to regain the UFC lightweight championship, he’s going to have to do it sooner rather than later. Thirty seven year old athletes are generally past their prime; only a select few have experienced glory while approaching forty. Ferguson has a chance to catapult himself back into the championship conversation with a great performance this weekend.
He’ll be watching the man who beat him in his last fight go up against the man who he believes dodged him face one another for the vacant championship at the end of the night. No one in the arena could have a more vested interest in the entire evening than Ferguson. He drew a lot of attention to himself at this week’s press conference. Now, the only thing left to do is get in the octagon and prove he deserves it.