Lightweight veteran Tony Ferguson finally strapped a UFC belt around his waist Saturday night after beating Kevin Lee in the main event of UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena to win the interim title.
The real reward will come if he can get lightweight champ Conor McGregor to sign for a unification bout and earn the big paycheck and instant fame that comes with such an opportunity.
Landing a fight with the organization’s biggest star is the equivalent of holding a winning lottery ticket, and Ferguson’s numbers may have been drawn Saturday night.
“(My next fight) is with Conor,” Ferguson said. “You can’t run anymore, man. You’re in check and I’m great at chess. It’s going to be checkmate soon.
“He’s got nowhere else to run. He’s got to defend or vacate.”
UFC president Dana White likes the idea, especially after the way Ferguson performed in winning his 10th straight fight by submitting Lee with a triangle choke in the third round.
“The thing the interim belts are good for is you don’t clog up the division, which would have happened while Conor was away doing the boxing thing,” White said. “We have an interim champion and there’s no question now who gets the next shot at Conor. There aren’t any questions now. Tony Ferguson won in a great fight. It’s pretty simple.”
White dismissed talk that McGregor prefers a third fight against Nate Diaz as nothing more than internet speculation. He added McGregor has expressed an interest in fighting by the end of the year, which would seem to line up for a possible spot on the UFC 219 card at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 30.
“He partied in Ibiza for awhile and then partied at home for awhile, now we’ve got to figure it out,” White said of McGregor.
Ferguson doesn’t believe McGregor will accept the fight.
“I’ll set him on his ass and everyone’s the same size when they’re on the ground,” Ferguson said. “Conor McGregor poses no threat to me. That boy is scared. He’s never mentioned my name one time. I’ve been here and won 10 consecutive fights and he hasn’t mentioned me once.”
Ferguson offered McGregor an out from the beating he plans to inflict.
“Just set (the belt) down and walk away,” Ferguson said. “Nobody has to get hurt.”
Johnson makes history
One champion who has no plans of abandoning his belt anytime in the near future is Demetrious Johnson.
The 31-year-old secured his place in history by breaking Anderson Silva’s mark with his 11th-consecutive title defense when he submitted Ray Borg in the fifth round.
White said Johnson is the greatest fighter in UFC history.
“Definitely,” White said. “He’s the man.”
Johnson could have coasted to a victory after taking each of the first four rounds, but somehow found a way to put a dramatic exclamation point on the win.
He tossed Borg in the air with a suplex and caught him in an armbar on the way down before forcing the tap out on the mat.
“We always knew he was good, but it’s another thing to be in there with him,” Borg said.
White said the maneuver baffled even color commentator Joe Rogan, who has been around the grappling world for most of his adult life.
“Rogan said he’s never even seen that in a jiu-jitsu match,” White said. “It’s crazy. This guy’s a freak. He broke Anderson Silva’s record and did it in spectacular fashion.”
Johnson is the only flyweight champion in UFC history, holding the belt since winning a four-man tournament when the division was created in 2012.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” he said of breaking the record. “It just feels really good to not hear Anderson Silva’s name next to mine anymore. It’s mine now. When people say, ‘Who has the record for most consecutive UFC title defenses?’ Demetrious Johnson is the answer.”
The way he’s going, the streak will only continue to grow.
UFC 216 Fact Sheet
Gate – $677,999.50
Attendance – 10,638
Fight of the Night – Lando Vannata vs. Bobby Green
Performances of the Night – Demetrious Johnson and John Moraga