History nearly repeats itself for Tony Ferguson’s title hopes

Tony Ferguson speaks with the media during a news conference for UFC 209, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. Ferguson is scheduled to battle Khabib Nurmagomedov, of Russia, in a mixed martial arts lightweight fight Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

It was quite the morning for Tony Ferguson on Friday. Less than 48 hours removed from UFC 216, the surging lightweight contender was once again several pounds away from witnessing the demise of his opportunity for promotional gold.

Just like before, it wasn’t Ferguson’s fault.

Kevin Lee, an upcoming but not-quite-there-yet contender who admittedly talked his way into a championship opportunity, failed to make weight on his first try for Saturday’s main event. He was literally seconds away from throwing out weeks of hard work and months of buildup, effectively absent until the very final minute of Friday’s 11 a.m. deadline for weigh-ins. Worse yet, he was a full pound over the 155-pound limit.

Visibly in disbelief — though potentially not surprised given how last-minute his trip to the scale was — Lee was afforded an additional 60 minutes to cut the final pound.

Make the weight and the fight is on.

Miss weight and suddenly the doors are open for a plethora of serviceable, but not ideal, scenarios. Lee would still be able to compete assuming both men agreed to fight under the new circumstances, with Lee giving up a percentage of his purse and forgoing his ability to win the interim title he worked so hard to attain.

There was also the very real possibility that the fight would be called off altogether, with either Ferguson (unlikely) or the Nevada State Athletic Commission making the final call.

However, Lee made the most of his extra hour, saving Saturday’s interim championship by stepping onto the scale a half-pound under. 

Though the additional effort ensures Lee will be able to make the walk to the cage with all his promised rewards still on the table, he’ll also have an excuse-in-waiting should things go awry once the cage doors close. The weight cut — particularly the strenuous ones for those making sizable drops — have rarely been kind to one’s true ability, seldom affording any fighter the opportunity to reach championship heights just one day after nearly missing weight.

But Lee made weight, at the very least permitting Ferguson the chance to accomplish what he set out to do.

That’s more than Ferguson could have said the last time out.

Ferguson had been scheduled to face perennial top-ranked contender Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 209 in March for the interim lightweight championship. However, a weight-cutting disaster forced Nurmagomedov out of the fight and Ferguson off the card altogether. It was devastating for Nurmagomedov, whose body failed him at the most inopportune time, as well as for Ferguson, who had zero control over what the plot twist would mean for his future.

Ferguson has remained on the sidelines since, nearly an entire year removed from his last outing inside the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 98 in November of 2016. Already waiting in the wings far longer than any top contender should, an additional disaster at UFC 216 would have derailed the elite lightweight even further.

It would have proven disastrous for Ferguson, not only because of the missed opportunity to win UFC gold on Saturday night, but because of the ultimate goal of luring returning champion Conor McGregor into the Octagon in the months to come. With the UFC moving forward with a high-stakes bout between former titleholder Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje, as well as the everlasting relevance of Nate Diaz, McGregor will soon have a number of options available when making a final decision on his UFC return. Though Ferguson should already be on the shortlist of names, a shiny strap of Octagon gold would have allowed him to make the most compelling case of any contender available.

That golden ticket, having nearly vanished into the distance along with Lee’s dwindling hopes of making weight, is suddenly back on the table.

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