At UFC 249, Tony Ferguson will meet Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title. It will be Ferguson’s second opportunity to win an interim belt, something he did back in 2017. The story of the interim title is not one of Ferguson finally reaching his career achievements, instead, it’s about a failed chapter in the story of his fighting career.
Since December 2015 UFC has worked to put together a fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Ferguson, and their most recent cancellation brings the total amount of failed bookings to five. In that time, there were two fights scheduled in which the undisputed lightweight title would’ve been on the line (UFC 223 and 249), but for a multitude of reasons on both sides, this fight has never come to reality. Two of the very best in the 155-pound division have been robbed time and time again of fighting each other, and so have the fans waiting for this fight.
Never mind the sad (and scary) reality that UFC 249 will take place amid a worldwide pandemic, the decision to book Ferguson vs. Gaethje for an interim title feels more of a panic to keep a fight going rather than putting a problem-solving solution in place.
Nurmagomedov is not competing at UFC 249 because as he always does, he traveled back to his home country of Russia to finish his training camp, and as he arrived, travel restrictions were put in place so he could not travel to wherever the UFC was able to stage the event. With less than just two weeks remaining before the event is scheduled to take place, UFC President Dana White has said, but not yet revealed, where the fight would take place, further complicating any possibility in the lightweight champion, Nurmagomedov, getting to the event.
On Monday, White announced the interim title fight between Gaethje and Ferguson and while the excitement of the bout is not in doubt, there are so many questions that come with it. Will all involved with the event be tested for COVID-19? Where is the fight taking place and are the fighters in the know? In a time of crisis and chaos, the UFC has made their stance clear, it’s time to put on fights, no matter what the local, state, or federal government has to say.
But at what cost? Has the promotion officially given up on Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson? White did say that the winner between Ferguson and Gaethje would get Nurmagomedov, likely in September, but what if Conor McGregor comes calling? In their efforts to keep a card intact during a worldwide pandemic, the UFC may be sacrificing what is likely their biggest fight ever, to date.
Will it be worth it? Time will tell, but the quick answer is no. The push for a fight has not only jeopardized a fight that’s been five years in the making, but it’s happening at an incredibly awful time given the state of current world events.
Fans of sports and combat sports specifically will rejoice because UFC 249 could signify a return from hiatus, but there could be long-term effects in making this interim title fight, from very serious health reasons to Gaethje beating Ferguson and setting up a meeting with Nurmagomedov.
If this is the sacrifice put on to bring “normal” back to the UFC and sports world, it may not be the sacrifice that the world, and fight fans for that matter, are willing to give.