Tony Ferguson
Tony Ferguson Image Credit: UFC

Dubai: Undefeated UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov has often said that the toughest fighter is always the one he is going to face inside the Octagon, and that could well relate to his next-in-line opponent, Tony Ferguson.

The American-Mexican, who is unbeaten in his last 12 fights, probably has the best mixed martial arts profile to hand the Dagestan fighter his first defeat in 28 fights.

Ferguson has long desired a shot at Khabib, but four previous attempts have failed to materialise, for a variety of reasons.

They were last supposed to square-off at UFC 209 on March 5, 2017, but Khabib fell ill and was admitted to hospital as a result of drastic weight cutting. The fight was called off due to ‘doctor’s recommendation’.

In previously scheduled meetings, both fighters succumbed to injuries just before the fights in 2015 and 2016.

Should both Khabib and Ferguson survive all obstacles, the two could finally face-off on New Year’s Eve, at a venue yet to be decided.

This looks a tantalising contest with the respective MMA profiles both fighters boast.

Khabib’s wrestling is from another world, while Ferguson is a crazy in-your-face fighter. Just ask Doland ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone or Anthony Pettis, whom he finished inside two rounds. The first by TKO, the second when Pettis’ corner threw in the towel to prevent their fighter from further serious damage after two rounds of hell.

Khabib used to grapple with a bear as a child in a bid to build his character and has subsequently made the Brazilian art of jiu-jitsu his bread-and-butter in the Octagon.

He has honed his grappling skills to epic levels as he once again demonstrated by submitting Dustin Poirier with ridiculous ease at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi.

The question that will be asked of Ferguson, whose game is based around his unorthodox, heavy striking, is how will he defend himself against Khabib’s high output of takedowns. The Russian averages over two per round according to available fight stats.

Answer: By closing the distance and making his punches count even before Khabib can settle down.

Easier said than done, but perhaps that’s the best medicine.