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Result of tonight's UFC headliner could determine McGregor's next opponent

An interim lightweight title will be on the line when Tony Ferguson takes on Kevin Lee.

UFC 216 Source: UFC

THE MOST LUCRATIVE prize in mixed martial arts could be at stake tonight when Tony Ferguson (22-3) and Kevin Lee (16-2) square off in the main event at UFC 216 in Las Vegas.

The winner will be crowned interim UFC lightweight champion, which may lead to a money-spinning clash with reigning lightweight title-holder Conor McGregor.

The Dubliner, who lost his professional boxing debut to Floyd Mayweather in August, hasn’t competed in the octagon since he knocked out Eddie Alvarez last November at UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden to rise to the top of the UFC’s 155-pound division.

McGregor’s head coach John Kavanagh is keen on seeing his fighter take on Nate Diaz in a trilogy bout next, but ‘The Notorious’ will be keeping a close eye on this evening’s headliner at the T-Mobile Arena.

“I’ve got the UFC title to defend and that means something to me. I will defend that world title,” McGregor said last weekend at a fan event in Glasgow, as reported by’s Peter Carroll.

“Nathan [Nate Diaz] is there. He’s trying to come in here and make all of these demands. If he starts pricing himself out of an event, I probably will defend against the person who wins this interim belt — or someone along that line to legitimise it again.

“I’ve already gone from the highest of the high in terms of a money fight. Now the question I always get is about defending the belt and legitimising the sport and the rankings. Maybe now it would be a good time for me to go and do that and shut that side up.”

Conor McGregor UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. Source: Tom Hogan/INPHO

He added: “In my head now, I’m very interested in seeing this fight this weekend and to see how the lightweight title picture pans out and to go in and correct that whole situation. That’s where my thoughts are.

“I also have history with Nate. It’s 1-1 and that has to happen. It will happen. The more I spend time away from it, I think I’ve already done all of the money fights. Now, to legitimise a title and to bring it back, I could potentially bring it back. That’s a little bit exciting for me. I’ll see how this whole title picture plays out and we’ll go from there.”

Ferguson, who currently possesses the highest win percentage in UFC history with a 12-1 record in the octagon, goes into tonight’s bout as the favourite (10/23 with Ladbrokes at the time of writing).

On the back of a unanimous-decision victory over former champion Rafael dos Anjos last November, the 33-year-old Californian can get his hands on the interim title by picking up his 10th consecutive win since his May 2012 loss to Michael Johnson.

It has already been a superb year for Kevin Lee, who featured on the preliminary portion of the card when the UFC hosted an event in Belfast 11 months ago.

The 25-year-old Michigan native, who’s aiming for his sixth victory in the space of 18 months, stopped Francisco Trinaldo in March and Michael Chiesa in June — both by submission.

PA-20307916 Demetrious Johnson can set a new record for consecutive title defences tonight at UFC 216. Source: AJM/EMPICS Entertainment

The UFC’s pound-for-pound number one fighter Demetrious Johnson has to settle for tonight’s co-main event slot for his bid to set a new record for consecutive title defences (11) when he puts his flyweight belt on the line against Ray Borg.

The pair were due to clash at UFC 215 last month but Borg was forced to withdraw on the eve of the bout due to illness.

UFC 216

Main card (BT Sport 2 — 3am)

Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee
Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg
Fabricio Werdum vs. Derrick Lewis
Mara Romero Borella vs. Kalindra Faria
Beneil Dariush vs. Evan Dunham

TV prelims (BT Sport 2 and UFC Fight Pass — 1am)

Tom Duquesnoy vs. Cody Stamann
Bobby Green vs. Lando Vannata
Pearl Gonzalez vs. Poliana Botelho
Matt Schnell vs. Marco Beltran

Early prelims (UFC Fight Pass — 11.30pm)

Walt Harris vs. Mark Godbeer
John Moraga vs. Magomed Bibulatov
Thales Leites vs. Brad Tavares

Irish fighter bids to emulate McGregor’s two-weight Cage Warriors title triumph

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Paul Dollery

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