Tony Ferguson now finds himself in an interesting situation. The much-anticipated fight between himself and Khabib Nurmagomedov is off the table, with Khabib forced to remain in Russia as a result of the country’s coronavirus quarantine guidelines. But at the time of writing, UFC 249 is still slated to go ahead, with Justin Gaethje drafted as Ferguson’s new opponent.
Given these changes in circumstances, the whole dynamic of Ferguson’s preparation will have been flipped on its head. The American now goes from being the underdog against Khabib to being the firm favourite in the Tony Ferguson v Justin Gaethje UFC betting odds.
It has surprised many that the entire UFC 249 has not been completely cancelled as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, but it could prove to be a much-needed distraction from the discouraging news we are hearing each day, and the boredom many will be feeling as they stay at home to help stem the spread of the virus. MMA is a sport which has a power to thrill like few others, and with Gaethje stepping up to fill the void left by Khabib’s absence, the whole event could be just what the world needs at a time when live sport is increasingly hard to come by.
So, what about Ferguson, one of the fighters who finds himself in this unusual position? It will be interesting to see what effect all this uncertainty will have had on the American. You would think that given the hard work Ferguson has been putting in with the aim of defeating Khabib, he’ll be able to channel that energy into a fight with any opponent.
Combat sports are an interesting phenomenon when it comes to the psychological aspect. When gearing up for a big clash, a fighter undoubtedly channels all his efforts into defeating that one specific opponent. It will have been Khabib’s face that Ferguson has been picturing as he trains and prepares, and it will be victory over Khabib specifically that he’ll have been visualising every night as he drifts off to sleep. Now he suddenly has a new opponent to envisage defeating.
But then, Ferguson has never seemed one to be caught off guard by such distractions. He has made his name as a singularly focused and determined fighter, one willing to rise to any challenge in a bid to dominate the sport. The fact that he holds the record for most consecutive wins in the UFC lightweight division (12) suggests that this is a fighter who won’t let adversity get in the way of his chance to score another victory.
Indeed, Ferguson may feel relieved that he won’t have to take on a fighter as dominant and formidable as Khabib. It may provide a confidence boost for the American, and give him a feeling that this is an opportunity to be grasped.
With almost the entire sporting world on lockdown, it’s clear that UFC 249 will have a very different feel than it otherwise would have. But Ferguson won’t be worried about all that, he’ll have his eyes firmly on the prize, whoever should stand in his way.