Last week, the mixed martial arts leader announced a host of matchups for its upcoming year-end schedule. But one pairing has certainly drawn more attention than the others.
At UFC 296, set to close out the promotion’s calendar for 2023 on December 16 at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson will make his latest attempt at returning to winning ways.
“El Cucuy,” who emerged as the victor on The Ultimate Fighter in 2011, has fallen someway from the form that saw him amass a record-tying 12-fight winning run prior to 2020.
Since then, Ferguson has lost six on the bounce, most recently to unranked veteran Bobby Green, who choked the 39-year-old unconscious at UFC 291 in Salt Lake City this past July.
Although that result left many calling for Ferguson’s retirement, he’s been put against a prominent name in former Cage Warriors champion Paddy Pimblett next time out.
While the matchmaking has been criticized by those who see it as the UFC’s attempt to push Pimblett at the expense of a past-his-prime vet, others see it as a step down in competition that could result in Ferguson having his hand raised again.
Whittaker: ‘I Think Ferguson Could Beat Pimblett’
During a recent episode of his MMArcade Podcast, former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker became the latest to back Ferguson’s chances, joining ex-fighters Michael Bisping and Chael Sonnen in that regard.
Despite admitting to being in the camp of those hoping to see “El Cucuy” hang up his gloves following the Green defeat, Whittaker thinks the 39-year-old has a good chance of victory against the “overhyped” Pimblett.
“I think me and a lot of other UFC fans, especially fans of Tony Ferguson… we thought his last fight was his last fight,” Whittaker said. “Honestly, the Tony Ferguson I saw last time in the Octagon was just one that doesn’t look like he has it anymore… For a few fights now, we haven’t seen the same Tony.
“Paddy, one of the fastest rising stars in the game and then fastest falling stars in the game. It’s crazy. This fight is great for that reason,” Whittaker continued. “And you know what? I think Tony could beat Paddy. Even the Tony we saw last time I think could beat Paddy. I do think Paddy was overhyped… A lot of the guys get into the UFC and have to develop their skillset and caliber as they go along… He was acting like he was already the best.”
Having firmly dismissed the possibility of calling time on his career anytime soon, Ferguson will look to show that the tank isn’t empty when he makes the walk on fight night this December.
In the aftermath of the matchup’s announcement, “El Cucuy” has appeared confident of doing so, even going as far as insisting that he is “faster than ever” ahead of UFC 296.
DC lays out what's at stake for Paddy Pimblett if he loses to Tony Ferguson in December 👀
(via @dc_mma) pic.twitter.com/Cx7Z1JZ5S0
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) October 4, 2023
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