Tony Ferguson vs. Cowboy Cerrone Holds the Key to Multiple UFC Blockbusters

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2019

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 10:  Donald Cerrone celebrates with his son Dacson Danger Cerrone after defeating Mike Perry by submission in their welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Pepsi Center on November 10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

UFC 238 will feature two title fights atop the card, but sandwiched in the middle of the stacked main card is a lightweight affair that is equal parts exciting and important for the lightweight division. Former interim champion and No. 2-ranked contender Tony Ferguson takes on No. 4-ranked Donald Cerrone.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 02:  (L-R) Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia and Tony Ferguson face off during the UFC 209 Ultimate Media Day inside TMobile Arena on March 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

As Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier prepare to unify the belts later this year, the UFC 238 matchup has all the makings of a No. 1-contender bout. It could be just that, but that’s not the only marquee bout that is at stake on Saturday.

It took Cerrone four years to earn a title shot, but he came up short against Rafael dos Anjos in 2015. After a three-year run at welterweight, he returned to lightweight in 2019. Cerrone immediately dispatched Alexander Hernandez and Al Iaquinta to assert himself into the title picture.

Ferguson has already held interim gold and has been linked to Nurmagomedov on numerous occasions. Fate has intervened each time to put the fight on the backburner. The stars are beginning to align once more for another attempt at that potential bout, but Cerrone is Ferguson’s biggest obstacle.

Nurmagomedov’s father has even said that Ferguson is still an option to fight his son at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi (h/t BloodyElbow.com’s Karim Zidan). While conventional wisdom would still put Poirier in that slot, the potential for a change due to contract disputes or injuries is real.

Editor's note: The UFC announced Nurmagomedov vs. Poirier was finalized for UFC 242 on September 7 after this piece published. 

A lightweight title tilt, whether sooner or later, would be a fantastic bout that will deliver incredible action to fans no matter if it is Cerrone or Ferguson. But it’s not the only bout that is potentially on the line—nor is it the biggest.

Conor McGregor still lords over the division as the biggest draw in the company.

Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA

For a fight like that Donald, I’ll fight you. Congratulations.

Is he ever going to return? And would he return in a non-title fight against Cerrone or Ferguson? While only McGregor knows those answers, the potential for the fight is still there and has to be taken into consideration. Cerrone has been angling for the fight, while McGregor took to Twitter after Cerrone’s win over Hernandez to exclaim that he would fight Cowboy. Ferguson has prodded the Irish superstar over the years as well.

Both fights have a backstory and are compelling stylistic clashes. And for Cerrone and Ferguson, it would net them the biggest payday of their fighting careers without question. It would be a pay-per-view main event bout without the need for a title.

If Nurmagomedov vs. Poirier is finalized, the winner’s potential title shot would not come until late 2019 or even early 2020. Whereas welcoming McGregor back to the UFC could happen much earlier in the fall. The timing is better for that matchup than for the title while offering them greater financial benefit.

But there are other options. What if Nurmagomedov moves on to a rematch against McGregor or even a fight against Georges St-Pierre, as his manager Ali Abdelaziz suggests (h/t TMZ Sports) is possible? Neither Cerrone nor Ferguson is the type of man to sit and wait. They’ll jump in against the next game opponent.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 30:  Justin Gaethje reacts after knocking out Edson Barboza of Brazil in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Wells Fargo Center on March 30, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LL
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Justin Gaethje is the name that leaps off the paper. He is ranked No. 5 in the division and matches both Cerrone and Ferguson with his level of excitement. It’s a lightweight tilt that would instantly garner the attention of the MMA world. It could headline any Fight Night event or be a suitable co-main event bout of a PPV.

Nurmagomedov, Poirier, McGregor or Gaethje. There isn’t a bad matchup in sight, and they are all possibilities.

The pieces on the board are moving, but the next move in this game is UFC 238. There are options for the winner of the lightweight showcase. Options that put them under a massive spotlight and caters to fight fans around the globe.

Lightweight blockbusters are making the MMA business shine. Cerrone and Ferguson will be giving it some additional polish on Saturday.