The UFC lightweight title is on the line once again on April 18, hopefully, in a location to be determined, but all signs are pointing to Dubai. Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov is making his third title defense against former interim lightweight champion Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson. This will be the main event on a stacked UFC 249 card and the champion, Nurmagomedov, is a -315 favorite with the challenger, Ferguson, coming back at +265.
Be sure to check out my full breakdown and picks for the UFC 249 main card.
This is the fifth time that these two warriors have been matched up against each other, yet they have never met in the cage. The previous four proposed bouts have been canceled – Nurmagomedov pulled out twice, once for injury and once because he was hospitalized after weight cut complications, and Ferguson has also pulled out twice, suffering a lung injury the first time and a knee injury in April 2018 when he tripped over a TV cable and tore a ligament. After the fourth canceled event, UFC president Dana White said he would never book this fight again, yet here we are.
This is the fight MMA fans have been craving for years as Ferguson is on a 12-fight winning streak, with nine of those scraps ending by a finish. Meanwhile, Nurmagomedov is a perfect 28-0, including 12-0 in the UFC, and has beaten the who’s who of the lightweight division. The last time these two were scheduled, Khabib was a -200 favorite with Ferguson coming back at +170 and this time around the odds are in the same range. I think this line should be a lot closer to a pick‘em and there is good value on El Cucuy.
Odds as of March 26 at Sportsbook
How Will This Fight Play Out?
Nurmagomedov is an incredible grappler, rag-dolling his opponents when he gets his hands on them, throwing them to the ground and smashing them with an aggressive ground and pound. The pressure he puts on his foes typically leaves them exhausted and eventually he finishes them with a submission or continues to maul them for the duration of the bout. His striking has improved recently, though he was hurt against Dustin Poirier in his defense at UFC 242, but he does a good job creating distance to regain his wits.
The challenger, Ferguson, is a very well-rounded athlete with top-level striking and an extremely dangerous submission game. El Cucuy has unorthodox striking, throwing spinning attacks, elbows and knees, all from awkward angles that are hard to pick up, and when he lands, the damage on his opponent’s face is evident immediately. Ferguson was also a national college wrestling champion back in 2006 so if he wants to keep the fight standing, he might be able to do just that.
A really interesting fight. Nurmagomedov swarms his opponents, gases them out and earns the victory, but Ferguson has outstanding conditioning and exceptional striking and is just as good on the floor. I think the champ will need to really own the first three rounds and then become a defensive shell in the back half of the fight if he wants to retain the title, while the challenger will have to keep the fight standing where he should have a major edge.