The co-main event at UFC 209 may crown a new interim lightweight champion but Tony Ferguson also has a personal investment in handing the Khabib Nurmagomedov the first loss of his professional career.
The fight between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov has been scheduled on two prior occasions with injuries forcing cancellations both times. The tension that was already building between the two fierce lightweights has now reached a fevered pitch with fight night only a few days away.
In the weeks spent promoting the contest, the co-main event fighters have taken plenty of jabs at each other and threatening bodily harm to your opponent when you're about to compete in unarmed combat might seem like par for the course but Ferguson certainly didn't take it that way when Nurmagomedov said he was going to try to break his arm at UFC 209.
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Whether Nurmagomedov meant it as typical pre-fight banter or not, Ferguson took it seriously and now he's committed himself to punishing the Russian fighter for the offense.
"My goal is to hit this guy in the stomach so hard for threatening to break my arm," Ferguson said when speaking to FOX Sports ahead of the event. "When he says that he wants to break my arm, I always reflect back because I love holding my baby. I look into his eyes and I love it because I do everything for him and my wife. When this dude says he wants to break my arm, I reflect back to that one loss I had when Michael Johnson broke my arm because I didn't really respect the sport. Khabib respects himself. He doesn't respect the sport. He just thinks he's the best in the world and you have to have that mentality, I get it, but when you threaten me that's [expletive] dangerous.
"Cause I'm not going to say anything back to you. I'm going to tell you I like holding my kid and that dude that broke my arm, I went three rounds with him and [Khabib] has five with me. I knocked Michael Johnson down with my broken arm. Since then I've learned Muay Thai and if my arm is broke, I'm not going to [expletive] quit. I'm going to hit him with every [expletive] arsenal I have and I can submit him with one arm. I'll cut him up with my elbows and I'll hit him with my punches and he'll take a knee and he'll bow to me before I ever go down not getting my victory. That's how [expletive] pissed I am because of that."
As angry as Ferguson feels towards Nurmagomedov, he's not going to discount that this could potentially be a very tough fight if he allows the Russian to utilize his most potent attack, which typically involves takedowns and then using his fists as hammers while treating his opponents like a bag of nails.
Of course, Ferguson also believes that's the only way Nurmagomedov can win this fight because he sees the undefeated lightweight contender as a throwback to the infancy of mixed martial arts when competitors only knew one discipline and fell apart when that strategy didn't work.
"I know for sure he didn't prepare like I have. He's a one trick pony with a padded record and I can't wait to mop the mat with his hat," Ferguson said.
"He's a wet blanket. He's the same thing as Danny Castillo. But the one biggest thing is I have a very powerful guard, especially with 10th Planet jiu-jitsu Eddie Bravo, one of my head jiu-jitsu coaches. I have great people and great coaches in my life right now that have been telling me 'doubt never got you here'."
On the flipside, Ferguson feels like he can beat Nurmagomedov anywhere this fight goes including his own wrestling game as well as huge arsenal of submissions and a big bag of tricks when it comes to his striking attacks.
In fact, Ferguson would love nothing more than to see Nurmagomedov take the center of the Octagon, put his hands up and invite a stand up war because he knows he'd have a UFC title wrapped around his waist very early into their 25-minute bout.
"The dude does not want to go toe-to-toe with me," Ferguson forewarned. "I would not want to go toe-to-toe with me."
There's a long list of items that Ferguson will accomplish with a win at UFC 209.
He would claim his first UFC title. He would also notch his 10th consecutive win in arguably the deepest division in the sport. But more than anything, Ferguson would silence Nurmagomedov and that may be worth more to him than all the gold or all the accolades in the world.
"I'm going to piss him off," Ferguson said. "I slapped the bull in the ass when we saw each other at the press conference. You saw him get pissed. He wants to act cool, calm and collected and act like he's not a [expletive] bully. I'm going to do what I used to do to all those bullies back in the day in Michigan.
"I'm going to whoop his ass, especially for all the little people because this guy doesn't deserve to have the title."