Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson and the 'broken promise' that shaped their story
That was the call from Tony Ferguson in the aftermath of his 12th straight victory in the UFC, in Chicago, at the weekend.
For the second time in two fights, 'El Cucuy' piece his opponent up and ensured they did not rise for the third round bell. Anthony Pettis and now Donald Cerrone felt the Californian's force and have been forced to stop by a doctor.
At UFC, on Saturday, Ferguson was the subject of boos after he hit Cerrone after the bell sounded out for the conclusion of the second round. Cerrone later absolved him of blame for that, regarding the stoppage at least, but fans were not happy at seeing a fight halted just as it was bubbling over.
Ferguson managed to bring the crowd back on to his side by the end of his passionate, expletive-laden Octagon interview with Joe Rogan. Following that, he sat down with the press to discuss his next steps in the fight game.
The 35-year-old wants to fight the winner of Dustin Poirier and Khabib Nurmagomedov's 'undisputed' lightweight title fight, at UFC 242, in September. His own interim belt was stripped from him last year when he injured his knee while on promotional work for the company.
Ferguson says he still considers himself the champ and, despite the fight falling by the wayside on four previous occasions, he is desperate to get a crack at Nurmagomedov.
If he misses out on that, he feels the way should be made for him to take on Conor McGregor. Ferguson declared:
"I know the division misses him. I’m pretty sure he misses the fight game, too. I mean, seriously, we need to see these fighters keep coming out and represent the sport, because that’s why you got into it. Because you're a f***ing athlete, man.
"Keep coming back because when it's your time to retire, go and retire man. But if you've made a name in this sport, and you're able and you're within the age limit, keep f***ing competing.
Ferguson was keen to point out that he is no longer part of the Paradigm stable of UFC fighters, of which McGregor is the leading name. "There's no conflict of interest," he stated.
The pair have a complicated relationship in the promotion. McGregor has, in the past, referred to the American as ,my fellow colleague' and a member of 'the Paradigm familia'.
However, there have been subtle and not-so-subtle digs on social media, over the years:
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) October 13, 2017
As part of their post-event wrap on ESPN, Ariel Helwani and Brett Okamoto spoke about McGregor, Ferguson and where a fissure could have first formed in their relationship. Okamoto said:
"The Conor fight would be a lot of fun, don't get me wrong, and Tony wants to fight Conor for a multitude of reasons.
"One of them being that Tony feels Conor broke a promise to him, very early on, when he was already at Paradigm and Conor came in. He said, 'I'm at 145. I'm not trying to come for 155.' We all know what happened there.
"Tony leaving Paradigm earlier this year... I think that's a personal fight. That's a fight the UFC could sell and so many would be interested in."
McGregor signed with Audie Attar's Paradigm not long after his April 2013 debut in the UFC. Ferguson won The Ultimate Fighter 13 at welterweight, in 2011, but had fought three more times at lightweight by the time McGregor joined him on Attar's books.
'The Notorious' was, at the time, hell-bent on Jose Aldo's featherweight (145lbs) belt but his focus switched to the lightweight division in 2016. At this stage, Ferguson was on a seven-fight winning streak in the division and had just defeated the dangerous Edson Barboza.
McGregor was getting the nudge from the UFC and he rode that wave all the way to his lightweight title win over Eddie Alvarez in November 2016. A week before the Dubliner became the 'Champ Champ', Ferguson was edging out former belt-holder Rafael Dos Anjos down in Mexico City.
McGregor went on the same path as Ferguson and didn't so much overtake him as steam-roll over. It is probably no surprise, then, to hear Ferguson say the following at UFC 238:
"I respect (Conor) as an athlete. As a person, I think he’s kind of a douche."
Still, they have shared a bond of being part of the same team for the guts of six years. When Ferguson was stood down from active duty due to personal problems, earlier this year, McGregor took to social media to show his support.
Tony Ferguson is the type of guy that when all the chips are down, can pick them right back up again and come back stronger than ever!
Came back from a debilitating injury in record time to give us one of the fights of the year!
Let’s go Tony!!
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) March 16, 2019
Thanks kid, Champ Shit Only 🇺🇸🏆🇲🇽 💯
— Tony Ferguson (@TonyFergusonXT) March 16, 2019
There are plenty of layers to this one and, should McGregor ever sort a new contract out with the UFC, their match-up with be a fascinating watch.
A national wrestling champion (NCWA) back in 2006, the Oxnard native has vowed to McGregor to stay on his feet and beat him by purely out-working and out-striking him if they do get locked in The Octagon together.