Tony Ferguson claims UFC's interim lightweight belt, calls out Conor McGregor

Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times on

Published in MMA

LAS VEGAS -- According to someone familiar with Conor McGregor, the Irish UFC champion has wanted someone to establish himself as an obvious challenger.

Tony Ferguson obliged Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, producing a well-planned triangle chokehold to submit No. 7-rated lightweight Kevin Lee in the third round of the UFC 216 main event.

"Where you at, McNuggets?" Ferguson (24-3) roared after claiming his 10th consecutive win and the interim lightweight belt created by McGregor's extended layoff from UFC action since November to await the birth of his son and then lose his boxing match to Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Aug. 26.

Ferguson and Lee (16-3) engaged in an entertaining battle in which the 25-year-old Lee ended the first round atop Ferguson, pounding his head with punches.

But Ferguson, 33, relying on supreme conditioning enhanced during a rigorous training camp in Big Bear, Calif., overcame a cut under his left eye and landed clean kicks on Lee in the second.

In the third, Ferguson overcame a second Lee takedown in the round and started to hurt Lee by striking him with pointed elbows to the head while Ferguson was underneath Lee.

Then, Ferguson wrapped his legs around Lee's head and neck and squeezed, forcing Lee to tap out 4 minutes, 2 seconds into the round.

"This went exactly the way I wanted," Ferguson said. "I wanted him to use all that aggression and leave him with no energy for the submission. I just knew I had to ride out the storm. He was slippery (when applying the finishing squeeze) but I just used textbook (skill)."

Lee said he felt the effects of cutting 19 pounds in less than 24 hours before Friday's weigh-in, and from battling a staph infection without using antibiotics.

"A little too much to handle," Lee admitted.

McGregor could want to wait until St. Patrick's Day night for his return after pocketing an estimated $100 million against Mayweather, but the UFC may press to have him return in its Dec. 30 card.

Said Ferguson: "Let's go."

Wearing "Vegas Strong" shirts, issuing powerful words and gathering defiantly in the face of the recent mass violence here, UFC fighters and fans sought in the event to demonstrate the city's resilience in light of the tragedy.

The shining example of returning to business as usual was flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, who set a new UFC record by winning his 11th consecutive title defense, eclipsing the mark set by former long-reigning middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

In the fifth round, Johnson (27-2-1) lifted and threw No. 3-rated challenger Ray Borg (11-3) backward, threw his two legs over Borg's chest and applied a fight-finishing armbar by squeezing Borg's left arm. The finish came 3 minutes, 15 seconds into the round.

"That's what we do," Johnson said of the unique end that increased his winning streak to 13. "I was just playing around, but I've been doing that so many times in the gym. I went for it."

Johnson opened his remarks by thanking first responders, and all week, the card was deservedly obscured by the worst shooting massacre in U.S. history that left 59 dead and more than 500 injured last Sunday by a shooter positioned from Mandalay Bay's 32nd-floor windows.

The evening captured both a somber recognition and a proud stand against the horror that shook the city six nights earlier.

In place of the typical highlights package shown at the start of cards, UFC President Dana White appeared on the arena's big screens and spoke.

"There are no words to describe this week's tragedy in Las Vegas," White said. "This city is brave, compassionate and strong. When we needed each other the most, our community never hesitated."

Former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum (22-7-1) shrugged off a Saturday opponent change due to Derrick Lewis' back injury and applied a first-round submission victory (armbar) over Walt Harris (10-6). Werdum took Harris down quickly and positioned to apply the armbar, then called out heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic for a rematch.

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