Controversial Victory at UFC 238 Shouldn't Keep Tony Ferguson from a Title Shot

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterJune 9, 2019

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Tony Ferguson prepares to enter the Octagon prior to his lightweight bout against Donald Cerrone during the UFC 238 event at the United Center on June 8, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

It was the third fight down on the UFC 238 dance card, but it was No. 1 in everyone's heart.

If you're one of those wacky people who watches sports to be entertained, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone vs. Tony Ferguson was about as surefire an engagement as there was, particularly in the MMA space.

With his second-round TKO win after an action-packed contest Saturday night, Ferguson showed he remains a force in the UFC lightweight division. Still, the manner of the ending—a doctor's stoppage because of Cerrone's swollen-shut right eye following Cerrone's ill-advised attempt to blow his broken nose that may well have been worsened by a Ferguson punch that arrived blatantly late following the second-round horn—once again demonstrated that, well, nothing ever comes cleanly with Ferguson.

Whether it's injuries or matchmaking or the fight itself—even with all his talent and drive—Ferguson has become a bit of an unlikely king of anticlimax.

And yet, it shouldn't keep him from the title shot he has earned several times over. No matter who wins between kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim titleholder Dustin Poirier on September 7 at UFC 242, Ferguson should be next in line for the lightweight title shot.

Back to the bout for a moment. Fighting for the third time this year, the 36-year-old Cerrone (36-12-1) came in buoyed by the momentum of a full-blown resurgence, trying to move to 5-1 in his past six contests after dropping three straight.

Meanwhile, the 35-year-old Ferguson (25-3) was trying to do the opposite: put the recent past behind him. Thanks to a litany of injuries (his own and his opponents') and various matchmaking diversions, this was only his third contest in the past three years. 

Donald Cerrone
Donald CerroneJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The first round went back and forth, with both men landing early and often. Ferguson reminded Cerrone and everyone else in Chicago's United Center that he has some of the hardest fists in the game. Cerrone answered with counterpunches and low kicks. It was a close round to call and difficult to score.

In the second, Ferguson found his stride. Calling his jab "stiff" would be an understatement. It looked like he was poking Cerrone with the end of a railroad tie. His forward pressure began to build, as it often does in Ferguson fights because he seems incapable of fatigue. One or more of those left hands bloodied and apparently fractured Cerrone's nose. A bit of swelling also arose under Cerrone's right eye.

After the second frame, Cerrone attempted to blow his nose in the cage. That violated Rule No. 1 of broken fighter noses. It also broke Rules 2 and 3. Why don't you do that? The eye swelling showed everyone why. Within seconds of the blown nose, the eye followed suit and blew up to the point it completely shut. The ringside physician was called in, and the bout ended.

Adding controversy to that ending—and maybe some volume to the boos—was the shot Ferguson landed on Cerrone's already hurt nose a full second after the horn sounded to end the second round. 

"It's not how I wanted the fight to go," Ferguson told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the cage after the bout. "It's really emotional here...there's no words that can describe that. That's now how I wanted to win. We can run it back. He's a hell of a f--king fighter."

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  (R-L) Donald Cerrone and Tony Ferguson exchange punches in their lightweight bout during the UFC 238 event at the United Center on June 8, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

A rematch might be fun, and it might help clear Ferguson's name. But for now, it's not the right call. Ferguson earned the title shot a long time ago. With yet another impressive, albeit relatively anticlimactic win, it's time to lock in Ferguson for that shot at the Khabib-Poirier winner.

As many fans know, UFC brass has tried four times to get the long-running Ferguson-Nurmagomedov feud into the cage. And four times injuries or a weight cut have thwarted their efforts. Talk about anticlimax. How many times can bad fortune intervene, like, legally?

According to the official UFC rankings, Ferguson is the top lightweight after Nurmagomedov and Poirier. Despite his recent inactivity, he's still on a 12-fight win streak. He hasn't lost since 2012. It's not a cheap streak, either, with consistent wins over the top names in the division. 

Ferguson understands this full well. He also seems to understand that the universe has not exactly worked in his favor, as evidenced by his insistence on wearing a decidedly unofficial belt to media events.

Shaheen Al-Shatti @shaunalshatti

Tony Ferguson needs to fight for a goddamn title. #UFC238

An X-factor here, as in all things, is Conor McGregor, who could swoop in and, at a minimum, muddy the waters for Ferguson and the lightweight title picture once again. This is purely speculation, but McGregor seems more removed from actual competition than ever. 

Who knows, but Ferguson seems to understand his time may have finally come.

"If me and Cowboy don't fight again, I want that title shot," Ferguson said in a statement the UFC distributed to reporters after the fight. "I've had that title, I feel that's why it's such an emotional roller coaster. I've increased my value after this fight tonight. If Poirier cannot do it, I'll go to Abu Dhabi and do it myself, and if McGregor wants to dance I have a tune for him too, so regardless I'll be ready."

Ferguson seems to always be ready. It's just a matter of whether the rest of the universe is ready for him. Saturday's win over Cerrone was classic Ferguson: as wild and strange as it was impressive and convincing. It's the Ferguson way. He draws power from some ancient and funky gods. Hopefully they'll finally reward him with the title shot he has oddly but inarguably earned.


Scott Harris covers MMA for Bleacher Report.