By Nich Wolak

MUSKEGON – The sports world has come to a halt with the outbreak of COVID-19.

Even Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White gave in to the realities of the ever-changing landscape, postponing events scheduled for March 21, March 28 and April 11.

Tony Ferguson talks to the press after fighting Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone back on June 8 in Chicago. Photo/Nich Wolak

But there is one fight White refuses to postpone or cancel – Muskegon’s Tony Ferguson versus Russia’s Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight championship (155 pounds). 

“Khabib and Tony is going to happen,” White said last week in an interview with TSN, a major sports channel in Canada. “We’re going to figure that out. We’re going to make it happen. It’s just going to be a matter of how quickly we can get back to being normal.”

The bout, originally scheduled to be held at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, New York on April 18, will be moved to an alternate location. Media speculation has been that the fight card will switch to an international site, with Middle Eastern cities Abu Dhabi and Dubai being prime candidates.

Nurmagomedov, a practicing Muslim, is a fan favorite in the region. 

Part of the UFC’s insistence on keeping the event on the schedule may be due to the elusive nature of the matchup. Ferguson and Nurmagomedov have been scheduled to fight four other times, but health issues for both (ribs and a bad weight cut for Nurmagomedov, blood and fluid in the lungs and a torn lateral collateral ligament (LCL) for Ferguson) prevented a meeting.

Muskegon’s Tony Ferguson (left) squares up with Donald Cerrone (far right) during their weigh-in on Friday, June 7. Photo/Nich Wolak

Ferguson has felt the UFC gold around his waist before. He won an interim belt in 2017 – interim belts act as a placeholder of sorts when the champion is inactive – but was stripped of it due to the LCL injury. 

Ferguson, the No. 1 contender with a career record of 25-3, is riding a 12-fight winning streak. He is coming off a TKO of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone on June 8, 2019. Nurmagomedov (28-0) last defended his belt on Sept. 7, 2019, defeating Dustin “Diamond” Poirier. 

Like many professional fighters, particularly Americans, Ferguson has a wrestling background. He earned all-state status three times at Muskegon Catholic Central High School, winning a state title at 152 pounds in 2002, his senior season. He went on to wrestle at Grand Valley State University, capturing a National Collegiate Wrestling Association championship in 2006 at 165 pounds. 

Ferguson began training for MMA in California at the end of his collegiate wrestling career, with his first professional fight taking place in 2008. He accrued a 10-2 record in smaller organizations prior to his time in the UFC.  

Ferguson broke into the world’s premiere MMA organization in 2011 by winning its reality television show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). In TUF, MMA competitors live in a house together. The fighters break into teams for training, but fight individually to try to earn the tournament title. The winner gets a guaranteed six-figure contract with the company.