Tony Ferguson & The Khabib Narrative
By Jack Rainbow
This is possibly the most controversial article I will ever write. The so-called “boogeyman” of the lightweight division, the man Joe Rogan consistently refers to as a “complete savage,” and no doubt one of the toughest men ever to step foot into the octagon, has at the age of 37 lost his third fight in a row.
Father time has evidently come calling, and whilst this is unsurprising given the sheer amount of wars Ferguson has engaged in, it does lead to an unfortunate re-examination at his overall ability to compete with the top of the lightweight food chain
This does seem crazy to say on the back of a 12-fight winning streak, but it is apt. Out of the 12 opponents beaten by Tony on his run, none are currently in the lightweight top 5.
Now this is not to say he has beaten nobodys, as Rafael Dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, and former champion Anthony Pettis, were credible wins, and in some cases emphatic, yet I make this argument, based on a previous contextual understanding that Ferguson vs Khabib Nurmagomedov, was a ‘pick-em ‘fight.
Ever since they were first booked to fight, before their record 5 cancellations, Khabib went from strength to strength, claiming wins that continue to age like a fine wine.
Beating the consensus number one lightweight on the planet (in his absence), Dustin Poirier, submitting Conor McGregor, and putting in arguably the finest performance of them all against Justin Gaethje. In his three most recent outings, they have built up how he is viewed into a GOAT contender.
When analysing the nature of his victories throughout his career, he has always, perhaps bar the Glenson Tibau fight, looked utterly dominant. In comparison, Ferguson has often had a difficult time, looking culpable for getting taken down against Kevin Lee, getting dropped by Anthony Pettis, and flirting with defeat against the then UFC newcomer Lando Vanetta.
In the last two fights of his three fight skid, Tony Ferguson’s takedown defence has been exposed as a hole in his game. His submission threat made previous opponents reluctant to grapple him, but he has been taken down at will by Benil Dariush and Charles Oliveria.
Many such as aforementioned Rogan, have put this down to the beating by Justin Gaethje, but it does put often glossed over areas in the Khabib vs Ferguson discourse, into the spotlight.
Ferguson has undoubtedly got some fantastic submissions off his back such as his famous d’arce choke, but it has now become apparent that he would have always had big problems with a grappler of the ability of Khabib
It is cruel to make this point, in the twilight of Ferguson’s illustrious UFC career, but at least we have figured out an answer to what seemed a never to be answered question.
Khabib would have beaten Ferguson, and it would not have been close. The 12-fight win streak was a show of Fergusons brilliant mental fortitude and winning desire, and it will forever be a crime that Ferguson never got a richly deserved shot at the undisputed UFC lightweight title. But the widely fantasised fight would have unlikely matched expectations.
Although Ferguson would always have some threat with his submission offence, and with the greatest respect to Oliveria and Dariush, who put in brilliant performances to subdue it, Khabib has repeatedly shown throughout his career that his grappling is second to none, especially with his top control and his takedown offence.
Although it is probably unfair to quantify this version of Ferguson as what would have been fighting Khabib a couple years back, it has become clear his grappling is and never was on the Russians level, in regards to fundamentals.
Even if unsuccessful at first, Khabib showed with his chained takedown against McGregor in the first round of their fight that he can practically turn any scenario into one in which he can be in control. His striking against Gaethje, looked better than the performance put up by Ferguson as well.
The route to victory for Ferguson was always seen as either him being able to keep the fight standing through his Jiu-Jitsu, or through his submission offence from his back. But a Ferguson victory, now looks a case of wishful thinking.
Although this will always be the fight that never was, there is some solace that the last year has given MMA fans a definitive answer on who was the best of the two.