Khabib vs. Ferguson Set for Interim Title

Perhaps the best fight that can be made in the lightweight division is official for UFC 209. Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson will finally face off on March 4 in Las Vegas to determine who has truly earned the shot at UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor.

The Los Angeles Times first reported that the fight had been finalized, and the bout was officially announced by the UFC on Wednesday.

The bout will be contested for an interim 155 lb. title due to McGregor’s absence from the sport as he expects his first child. While some may scratch their heads at the notion of an interim belt being introduced when McGregor just won the title in November, the artificial belt means that Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson will be a five-round fight. A fight with such implications about the future of the deepest division in the UFC deserves more than three rounds to play out.

The fight will serve as the co-main event, as UFC 209 is headlined by the welterweight title rematch between champion Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson.

The undefeated Nurmagomedov (24-0) spent two years on the sidelines due to injury but returned in April and appeared to have not a step. He beat late-notice replacement Darrell Horcher (he had been scheduled to fight Ferguson, who withdrew from the fight due to illness) in the second round. At UFC 205 in November, Khabib survived an early storm from Michael Johnson and went on to destroy the top lightweight for the better part of three rounds, submitting him in the third.

Ferguson (22-3) has been the more active fighter, and he’s been ripping through the lightweight division for the past few years. He earned his ninth win in a row in November, beating former champion Rafael Dos Anjos in a convincing five-round decision. Prior to that he defeated Lando Vannata in July and Edson Barboza last December (in a slot that was supposed to be Ferguson against Nurmagomedov, but Khabib pulled out with a broken rib).

The two elite talents have been set to fight twice before without the matchup being made. But now, as they have each proven to be head and shoulders above their peers, this fight is more intriguing than ever. Ferguson is one of the most dynamic fighters in the UFC, and he has the unconventional ground attacks to threaten Nurmagomedov’s relentless top pressure.

Most importantly, the winner of this fight will be a titleholder in the lightweight division, all but guaranteeing them a high-profile showdown with Conor McGregor when he returns.

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