UFC 216 saw a highly anticipated matchup to determine the interim lightweight champion.
Tony Ferguson squared off against Kevin Lee, coming back from a couple tough rounds to win by submission in the third. Despite an impressive performance, Lee is still hearing from vocal critics.
One critic is an undefeated lightweight contender who Lee had talked about leading up to the fight. Khabib Nurmagomedov noted that the young contender may have focused too much on marketing and not enough on being the aggressor.
“I think [Ferguson] won because Kevin Lee was fighting with him like chicken. That’s why he won. [Lee] talked too much. He was not focused on the fight; he was focused on, I think, promoting the fight.”
Nurmagomedov also stated that Lee’s conditioning may have been a factor, since his aggressive pace slowed significantly as the fight went on.
A bad weight cut may have had something to do with it, as Lee initially missed weight by a pound. Doctors deemed him fit to reattempt the cut, and he dropped to 154.5 within the next hour. There are also rumors that Lee may have been suffering from a staph infection. Both the condition and the antibiotics used to treat it can cause a loss of energy.
Nurmagomedov’s name has been in the lightweight title picture for years now. It was originally supposed to be he, not Lee, who faced Ferguson for the interim belt. He dealt with a weight-cutting issue of his own, being forced to pull out of their planned UFC 209 clash the day before the weigh-ins.
He also received surgery during his down time. Now the 25-0 (8-0 UFC) Nurmagomedov seems interested in finally making the Ferguson bout happen. A unification bout with Conor McGregor was originally discussed, but it is also a possibility McGregor may have a rubber match with Nate Diaz.
If this were the case, it would set the stage for Nurmagomedov to finally compete for the championship. Some criticized Kevin Lee’s status as a title contender, citing a lack of noteworthy competition. However, Lee did have an extremely consistent fight schedule, fighting six times in two years if the title bout is included.
Nurmagomedov last fought in November of 2016. He fought twice that year, was out of competition for 2015, and fought once in 2014. This fight was a unanimous decision win over former champion Rafael dos Anjos.
Should the unification bout with McGregor happen, Nurmagomedov would likely face Edson Barboza. But after seeing the interim title bout, Nurmagomedov believes he can stop Ferguson.
“When I watched how Kevin Lee beat Tony Ferguson in the first round, I think (I became) confident, 100 percent, I can finish this guy in the second or third round.”
The issues Lee and Nurmagomedov have had making weight are nothing new. The UFC has seen more problems like this recently, leading to questions about the best way to handle it. Everything from cutting limits to additional weight classes have been discussed as possible solutions.
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