The UFC 209 live stream is two weeks away and the fight card has even finalized. Here’s how the full event stacks up. Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson 2 — UFC 209 main card, Live on PPV (10PM/7PM ETPT)
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson Rashad Evans vs. Daniel Kelly Lando Vannata vs. David Teymur Alistair Overeem vs. Mark Hunt Todd Duffee vs Mark Godbeer — FS1 Prelims (8PM/5PM ETPT) Marcin Tybura vs. Luis Henrique Darren Elkins vs. Mirsad Bektic Luke Sanders vs. Iuri Alcantara Tyson Pedro vs. Paul Craig — UFC Fight Pass Prelims (6:30PM/3:30PM ETPT)
The UFC has already stripped one of the two titles Conor McGregor briefly held simultaneously last November.
The two lightweights gunning for the belt he still holds say it might as well be relinquished too. Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, who fight for the interim lightweight title in the co-main event of UFC 209 on March 4 at T-Mobile Arena, agree that McGregor isn’t as tough of competition as they are for each other.
“If I take Tony down, we have to keep fighting,” Nurmagomedov said. “If I take down Conor, what is he going to do? His conditioning is very bad. His spirit, his heart is small. Tony is better than Conor.”
While neither Nurmagomedov nor Ferguson is nearly as popular as McGregor, they could both make a strong argument that they’re more deserving of the 155-pound title based on résumé. Whereas McGregor’s last loss was less than a year ago, Ferguson has gone unbeaten for nearly five years in winning nine straight fights.
Nurmagomedov has never lost, winning all 24 of his professional fights dating back to his days fighting in small promotions in Ukraine and his native Russia.
“Right now, (Nurmagomedov) poses more challenges,” Ferguson said. “He’s who I’ve been preparing for for the last couple years. I would like this challenge to be smashed. We’re going to finish him, and then finish Conor.”
Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson has been something like the “Chinese Democracy” of the UFC. It’s a long anticipated event, but one that’s been subject to numerous delays.
The two were first supposed to meet at “The Ultimate Fighter” 22 finale in July 2015 at the Cosmopolitan, but Nurmagomedov came down with an injury. Then they were scheduled for a bout at UFC on Fox 19 in April 2016 before Ferguson wound up hurt.
Even the UFC 209 fight was slightly pushed back when Ferguson got into a contract dispute with the UFC. Nurmagomedov wanted the fight so badly that he offered to personally pay Ferguson $200,000.
Ferguson said he wouldn’t have taken another fighter’s money, but he appreciated the gesture.
“Game recognizes game, real recognizes real,” he said. “Conor is a great athlete, but he’s a one-trick pony. Khabib has been doing this for a long time, and he’s tough. He trains like a bear, so you’ve got to take that into consideration.”
All lightweight discussions inevitably revert to McGregor, even with him conspicuously absent.
The plan was always for McGregor to take off the beginning of 2017 until longtime girlfriend Dee Devlin gave birth to their first child. But it appears as if his hiatus could extend as he stands at odds with the UFC and entertains the idea of a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather.
Nurmagomedov hasn’t appreciated McGregor’s continued brashness while he’s, “away relaxing.”
“He will stay humble, stay quiet after I teach him respect,” Nurmagomedov said.
Although Nurmagomedov and Ferguson are united in respect for each other and frustration with McGregor, their commonalties end there. There’s still tension between two fighters who have spent years in each other’s crosshairs.
“When I fight with Michael Johnson, when I took his arm for the kimura, I could break it but I’m very careful, go slowly,” Nurmagomedov said. “I don’t get him injured because I understand fight is finished. But if Tony Ferguson gives me his arm, I’m going to break his arm.”
At this rate, it’s possible that the winner of the UFC 209 co-main event never gets the chance to unify his title with McGregor. Good thing both fighters say UFC 209 brings a better matchup anyway.
“He’s an impressive fighter — gets Fight of the Night, Performance of the Night in all fights,” Nurmagomedov said. “But he’s never fought with a fighter like me.”