It’s a bit surreal to think that Tony Ferguson has never fought for an undisputed UFC title.
After all, the 36-year-old former interim lightweight champion holds a 25-3 professional record and is riding a highly impressive 12-fight winning streak. And ironically enough, this week, which will culminate in Ferguson once again fighting for an interim title when he meets Justin Gaethje in the main event of UFC 249 on Saturday, marked eight years since he suffered his last defeat.
And when it comes to why the man known as “El Cucuy” hasn’t fought for the 155-pound division’s undisputed strap, it’s certainly not been for a lack of trying, as Ferguson and current titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov have been booked to fight a staggering five times with the bout never coming to fruition.
On three of those occasions, a title was scheduled to be on the line, with the two being booked to fight for an interim title at UFC 209 in 2017 before being slated to compete for an undisputed title at both UFC 223 and the upcoming UFC 249 card when it was originally set for April 18.
Although seen as one of the most anticipated and most meaningful fights in UFC history, the bout is perhaps the most cursed fight the promotion has tried to make as well, as something always seems to go wrong when Nurmagomedov and Ferguson sign on the dotted line.
Ahead of UFC 209, for example, “The Eagle” was hospitalized following complications with his weight cut and forced to withdraw. Then prior to UFC 223, Ferguson suffered a gruesome knee injury on set while adhering to his pre-fight media obligations. And most recently, the bout fell apart due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, as Nurmagomedov is at home in Dagestan and unable to travel to the United States.
Through all of the ups and downs, however, one thing has remained consistent and that has been Ferguson, the level he has performed at and his ability to beat the top fighters in his division.
During his 12-fight winning streak, for example, “El Cucuy” has won nine fights by way of finish. In addition, he’s taken out a slew of big names and former champions including Josh Thomson, Edson Barboza, Rafael dos Anjos, Kevin Lee, Anthony Pettis, and Donald Cerrone.
What’s perhaps most impressive about his streak, however, is not who he’s beaten, but how he’s beaten them. Ferguson has gained a reputation as not only a relentless pressure fighter who consistently pushes forward, sets an incredibly high pace and breaks opponents down, but as an unbelievably unique and unorthodox fighter willing to take risks and try things that few others are.
This string of wins along with the way he fights has garnered Ferguson some well-deserved attention among the sport’s elite. And while a fight against Nurmagomedov remains a fight that fans long for, it’s interesting to note that in Ferguson’s case, he doesn’t necessarily need the title of undisputed to define his greatness.
Sure, most fighters chase titles, but Ferguson’s resume undoubtedly speaks for itself. In fact, it could be argued that his resume is stronger than Nurmagomedov’s, or, at the very least, rivals it. And should he add a victory over Gaethje to his resume this weekend, that argument will only become stronger.
Simply put, “El Cucuy” has been an interim titleholder and he’ll have another chance at that title this weekend. And if he does come out on top, he’ll be in line to finally fight for undisputed gold. But as history has shown us, nothing in mixed martial arts is guaranteed, especially when Ferguson, Nurmagomedov, and the lightweight title are involved.
But when it comes to legacy, that title is not the end all be all for Ferguson. He’s done enough without it to cement himself and if he keeps winning, it will be difficult to keep his name out of the conversation of the best lightweight of all time. Whether he becomes the undisputed champion or not.