The MMA world were left in a state of shared confusion upon hearing the news that Tony Ferguson will return to face Donald Cerrone at UFC 238.
The UFC have always been known to throw a curve-ball or two at their fans every now and then, but even by their standards, this one was quite frankly the last thing anyone would have expected.
With that in mind, we’ve had a go at addressing some of the questions that immediately came to the fore upon this fight’s announcement.
Why is Tony Ferguson returning so soon?
Tony was left on the sidelines for about six months after sustaining a gruesome tear to his LCL during UFC 223’s fight-week.
After overcoming that injury in a ridiculously short space of time, he returned to the octagon at UFC 229, beating down Anthony Pettis in their instant-classic co-main event pairing.
In recent months, Tony has been dealing with personal issues – ones that were the subject of quite a bit of media coverage. For a while, it did seem as though it would be a long, long time before we saw in action again.
To be honest, there were many of us who doubted we ever would.
A few weeks back, however, Ferguson was cleared to fight. If history is any indicator, this man’s mental toughness and ability to fight through adversity is unmatched.
If he has been cleared, there’s every reason to believe that he’s fit to fight.
He certainly seemed happy with himself following talks with the UFC brass if his social media activity was any indicator.
“Building Bridges” Champ Shit Only -XTA- Hometeam 👣 🇺🇸🏆🇲🇽 pic.twitter.com/gCADHel37b
— Tony Ferguson (@TonyFergusonXT) May 7, 2019
Considering that the man publicly attacked the company not so long ago for taking away the interim-title he won at UFC 216 by submitting Kevin Lee, to change his tune so quickly, one would have to assume that he’s finally getting paid the money he deserves.
The lightweight division has two champions, make no mistake. And it’s high-time that El Cucuy got his dues.
Why is Donald Cerrone returning so soon?
It’s hard to know exactly how long it took Donald to accept this fight after beating down Al Iaquinta in the UFC Ottawa main-event. But given that the fight happened six days prior, we’re talking hours and days here.
So why did he take the fight?
Because he’s Donald f**king Cerrone, that’s why!
But in all seriousness, it’s obviously a great fight for his ambitions of winning that lightweight title.
Cerrone’s confidence is no doubt at an all-time high and on top of that, one would have to assume that the other major fight he was being looked at for has hit a major speed bump in its negotiations.
Cerrone was supposed to be in line to fight Conor McGregor, so what on earth happened there?
Dana White spoke on a recent appearance on The Jim Rome Show where he re-ignited some of the buzz surrounding a fight between the Irishman and Cowboy.
“This Cerrone fight makes sense, there’s a couple different options out there for him. He was talking about the Cerrone fight at one point. I don’t really know but that fight makes sense.
“He and I are getting together very soon within the next week and we’re going to figure out what next for him and I see him fighting this summer.”
Dana doesn’t just make these comments idly.
This interview took place earlier this week, when Cerrone’s stock had just sky-rocketed after his win over Iaquinta.
With his spot in the 155lb top-5 sealed, booking a fight with McGregor has never made more sense. If ‘Ragin’ Al had come away with the win, the UFC would have been left with less in the way of options for Conor – with Tony Ferguson perhaps offering the most realistic of the lot.
If I had to guess, something went awry in the negotiations between McGregor and the UFC in the last few days – or at the very least, something happened that made a return to the octagon this summer highly unlikely.
So what does that mean for McGregor?
The top-four fighters in the lightweight division not-named Conor McGregor are now tied up in a battle for the belt.
Khabib, Dustin, Tony, Cowboy.
One would hope that Khabib will return later this year to face Poirier.
All logic, sense and justice will point towards The Diamond as the rightful number one contender in the division.
Here comes the worrying part.
I must admit that I have a slight, slight suspicion, that the UFC are going to oust Poirier from that position and book the immediate rematch between the champion and Conor McGregor.
That ESPN deal could use the massive injection of ESPN+ subscribers that another record-breaker between these two superstars would generate.
In order to watch UFC events in the US, you need to be a subscriber to the service. Of course, it’s early days and the bottom limit for PPV buy-rates will gradually increase as more fans hop onboard but do not be surprised if the UFC are looking to speed up that process.
Just look at UFC 236’s dismal buy-rate.
It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think that the UFC would jump on a major money fight after Poirier’s spot on UFC 236 generated 100k buys.
ESPN are obviously looking for a return on their investment and while there will be no doubt be a growing process as these smaller PPV cards go by, to bag themselves a lot of long-term subscribers in one fell swoop is a must – for the sake of their short-term gains as well as their long-term ones.
But you never know, the UFC could well be lining up a fight with Max Holloway for the Irishman.
I know it’s a long-shot but when you think about it, the top contenders at 155lb are now all tied into a four-way battle for the belt so why not offer the always-game Holloway a massive payday for a quick turnaround and get him there for a matchup with the sport’s biggest star.
It doesn’t explain why Conor’s not fighting Cerrone, though.
Out of all of the options, I would hope that sense prevails and Khabib/McGregor II – if it ever happens – happens organically.
But do you think the UFC would say no if Conor pushed for it relentlessly?
I believe Nurmagomedov would be the only one out of the three who wouldn’t be delighted to run that one back straight away but even still, I can’t imagine he’d turn it down either.
As we all know, money talks – and the UFC have made a serious habit of listening these days.
Although, it’s worth noting that a familiar face from Stockton, California just turned in his first USADA sample of 2019.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena