UFC – Khabib: Ferguson Was Never Elite, Gaethje Broke Mentally
Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson have been scheduled to fight on five different occasions, but their stars never aligned. With the Dagestani now retired and ‘El Cucuy’ falling down the pecking order, a fight between the two is now a million miles away from reality.
Khabib however, doesn’t feel too bad about the missed opportunity to fight Ferguson, as like Justin Gaethje, he never counted him as an elite fighter. In an interview with ACA fighter Magomed Ismailov (as transcribed by BJPenn.com), the 32 year old explained why he’s never rated the former interim champion.
“I swear that I never considered him as an elite lightweight,” Khabib stated. “He was very good, but I never counted him so, because it’s impossible to be an elite at 37 years [of age]. It’s never been before and Khabib cannot do this. At 37 years in the lightweight division, no way, but heavyweights can. It’s my opinion and you cannot change it.
“Secondly, since 2016 he fought Kevin Lee, Edson Barboza, Anthony Pettis, and Donald Cerrone and these four fighters have 20 losses for these four years. It means that since 2016 he didn’t fight good fighters. But now, he faced young and top fighters, I mean Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje. They outclassed him, you saw this. Both fighters just dominated Tony. I was just dreaming about this fight. But it wasn’t destined, we had injuries in a row.”
The last time the two were scheduled to fight was at UFC 249, when Khabib was forced to withdraw due to travel restrictions as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Ferguson faced Gaethje instead for the interim title.
Gaethje went on to dominate Ferguson in the UFC 249 main event, before eventually getting the TKO finish in the fifth round. In winning, not only did ‘The Highlight’ win the interim belt, he also earned the opportunity to challenge Khabib for the undisputed title five months later at UFC 254.
Although Khabib choked Gaethje out in the second round to successfully defend his title at UFC 254, his preparations were anything but trouble-free, as he was hospitalised after catching the mumps six weeks ahead of the fight
“It was September 9th in the morning that I started feeling ill. I started feeling worse on the plane [to Abu Dhabi] and when we arrive [the next day], I get a high fever,” Khabib said (as transcribed by MMA Junkie). “It was getting really bad and after a while, I was taken to the hospital, and I had intensive care for five days. It was really bad.”
The undefeated Russian didn’t train for two weeks due to his illness, but when he finally returned to training, he broke his thumb.
“We started training again on September 24th. But after ten days, I broke my thumb,” Khabib revealed. “I broke my thumb on October 7th.”
Owing to his struggles, Khabib said that he wanted to cancel the bout, but eventually decided against it.
“I was having so much [to deal with] with this fight, the disease and fractures,” Khabib said. “At the end of the day, we decided to keep the fight on.”
Khabib fought Gaethje for over six minutes before getting the finish. The two spent the majority of the fight standing, as the Dagestani forced his foe against the cage, while getting tagged with several leg kicks. Although the fight remained competitive on the feet, it was all Nurmagomedov when he took the fight to the mat.
Looking back at the UFC 254 main event, Khabib believes that Gaethje gave up mentally.
“You may not see this, but I felt it: He gave up,” Khabib said. “I mean, his will was broken. He gave up mentally. I don’t think that I won this fight physically, but rather mentally.”
As of now, Khabib is still officially the lightweight champion, but things could change when he meets Dana White later this month in Las Vegas.
What are you thoughts on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s comments on Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, and his health issues ahead of UFC 254?