Tony Ferguson is finally a UFC champion.
Following his tenth consecutive win in the division, Ferguson wrapped the interim lightweight belt around his waist after sinking in a triangle choke in the third round to put away upstart contender Kevin Lee.
It was a long time coming for Ferguson after he was supposed to compete for the interim title back in March before Khabib Nurmagomedov dropped out of their fight after suffering through a brutal weight cut.
Fast forward seven months later and Ferguson finally stepped into the Octagon with gold on the line, while Lee attempted to steal his thunder following five consecutive wins of his own.
Lee looked comfortable on his feet in the early exchanges as he popped Ferguson with a couple stiff punches. Ferguson countered with his long reach as he tried to find a home for his jab that has picked apart more than a few of his past opponents.
As the fighters were both winging punches, Ferguson seemed to get caught in the eye although it wasn’t clear if he was caught with a shot or a poke, but either way Lee did his best to take advantage by pressing forward aggressively.
The move nearly backfired as Ferguson fired a left hand that clipped Lee and dropped him to a knee before he bounced back to the feet.
While he avoided grappling for the most part in the opening round, Lee finally swooped in for a takedown and while Ferguson tried to scramble loose, he ended up on the bottom trying to fish for a submission.
Lee slipped out of an omo plata attempted, which then allowed him to move into side control before transitioning to the mount, which is the last place Ferguson wanted to be. Lee started to blast away with huge punches and elbows but he ran out of time as the round came to an end.
Lee received a warning from referee Herb Dean after the round due to a punch that he threw clearly after the round was over.
Ferguson kept popping Lee with a series of straight punches and then coming over the top with several hard punches. As blood started to trickle down Lee’s nose, Ferguson smiled as he stayed on the attack, feeding his opponent a steady diet of lefts and rights from the outside.
As Lee went back to the corner, he noted to his corner that he was feeling tired, which is the last place he wanted to be just two rounds into the fight. Meanwhile, Ferguson was surging just pacing back and forth, waiting for the referee to unleash him again.
While he may have been exhausted, Lee refused to back down as he planted Ferguson on the mat with two huge takedowns in the third round. Slamming Ferguson to the mat was impressive, but Lee couldn’t stave off the submission attempts coming from the former “Ultimate Fighter” winner as he was relentless from the bottom.
Ferguson nearly wrapped up an armbar but somehow Lee was able to contort his body around to slip free. Unfortunately for Lee, Ferguson immediately transitioned into a triangle choke and this time the No. 7 ranked lightweight wasn’t going to get out without tapping or going to sleep.
Ferguson cranked on the submission and tightened his grip before Lee finally gave into the submission as the stoppage came at 4:02 in the third round.
It was a well earned celebration for Ferguson after he waited so long to finally compete for a UFC title, but his work is far from finished, especially with a guy named Conor McGregor still lurking nearby as the undisputed lightweight champion in the UFC.
Needless to say, Ferguson had a message for him following the win.
“Where you at McNugget’s, you (expletive) piece of (expletive)! I’m going to kick your ass!” Ferguson shouted. “You better come and (expletive) defend that belt. Defend or vacate, (expletive)!”
McGregor has remained non-committal about his next fight, although he said he would be keeping a watchful eye on the UFC 216 main event as the winner could serve as his next opponent.
As for Lee, he admitted after the fight that he was dealing with a staph infection that hindered him going into UFC 216 not to mention a brutal weight cut on Friday. Still, Lee made a good showing for himself after taking a major step up in competition following his first win over a top 10 ranked opponent just four months ago.