AFTER WEEKS OF uncertainty, the UFC have finally confirmed that Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are set to lock horns.
The pair, who are ranked as the top two contenders in the lightweight division, will meet in the co-main event at UFC 209 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, 4 March.
Again, the organisation has decided to put an interim title on the line in the division where Conor McGregor is the reigning champion. According to a UFC press release, McGregor is “not expected to be back until later in 2017″ after explaining in November that he intended to take a break as his girlfriend is due to give birth in May.
A meeting of Nurmagomedov (24-0) and Ferguson (22-3) has been a long time in the making. The leading lightweights have been scheduled to fight twice in the past — December 2015 and April 2016 — but both bouts were ultimately cancelled due to an injury to one of the fighters on each occasion.
A third attempt to match the duo hit a stumbling block recently when Ferguson demanded improved financial terms to bring his earnings in line with Nurmagomedov’s. The 28-year-old Russian offered to pay Ferguson $200,000 from his own pocket as the fight looked likely to fall through again, but the UFC confirmed overnight that contracts have now been signed for the organisation’s first Las Vegas pay-per-view event of 2017.
Nurmagomedov is undefeated in his professional career, taking eight wins in the UFC since debuting for the organisation in 2012. He submitted Michael Johnson in a dominant display at UFC 205 and called out Conor McGregor afterwards.
Ferguson, a former winner of The Ultimate Fighter, has been on a hugely impressive run of form since suffering his only UFC loss to Johnson in May 2012. The 32-year-old American has won nine fights on the trot, the most recent of which came at the expense of former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos in November.
The winner of the interim title bout will be expected to face lightweight champion Conor McGregor, who dethroned Eddie Alvarez in New York in November. UFC president Dana White claimed recently that McGregor is planning to take a 10-month break from competing, although McGregor has insisted that there’s no timeframe on his hiatus.
During McGregor’s reign as featherweight champion last year, the UFC put an interim title up for grabs while the Dubliner focused on a welterweight rematch with Nate Diaz. After defeating Frankie Edgar to take the interim belt at UFC 200, Jose Aldo was later reinstalled as undisputed 145lbs champion when McGregor was stripped of his status as champion.
UFC 209 will be headlined by a rematch between champion Tyron Woodley and Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson for the UFC welterweight title.