UFC 249 is Tony Ferguson's Chance at Stardom

Tony Ferguson at the weigh-ins for UFC 229 Khabib v McGregor
Tony Ferguson at the weigh-ins for UFC 229 Khabib v McGregor / Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Tony Ferguson will headline UFC 249 this weekend in a bout against Justin Gaethje. It will be the UFC's first event since being shut down by the coronavirus pandemic and will be the first live American sporting event in weeks. Combining those factors with his 12-fight win streak, Saturday night is Ferguson's chance to become a star.

Given the lack of competition, UFC 249 should have a lot of eyes on it. That's a great thing for the company and Ferguson vs. Gaethje should provide some entertainment. Both guys are a lot of fun to watch. But this is clearly being set up as a coronation for Ferguson, who was supposed to be facing Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title. With Khabib stuck in Russia under quarantine, the winner Saturday will walk out with the interim title and be first in line when the current champ can fight again.

Ferguson is well-positioned to take that step. He's a thrilling fighter and one of the UFC's emerging stars. He's been great for a while, but with guys like Conor McGregor, Nurmagomedov, Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier and Jorge Masvidal getting so much attention, he's flown under the radar a bit. There's no good reason for that.

A native of Oxnard, California, Ferguson has been elite for a long time. He's won a lightweight division record 12 consecutive fights. He hasn't lost since suffering a unanimous decision defeat to Michael Jonson on May 5, 2012.

Ferguson has won 18 of his last 19 bouts and is 25-3 overall with 20 stoppages. During his time in the UFC he's won 10 performance bonuses, including five Fight of the Night awards in his last six bouts. He also won the interim lightweight title at UFC 216 in 2017, but was later stripped of the belt following a knee injury.

The 36-year-old former college wrestler has enough power to put anyone in the lightweight division down. Ferguson has authored several spectacular knockouts during his career, but he's most known for his versatile choke game. His long arms make him an ideal submission specialist. The combination of power and submission skill make him a dangerous fighter.

The man known as "El Cucuy" enters Saturday with a chance to put himself among the big names in the UFC. He's currently 10th in the organization's pound-for-pound rankings, but if he can dominate Gaethje he could make a jump up those rankings.

Gaethje won't go easily. While he initially took the fight on short notice, it was pushed back until May 9, giving him more time to prepare. He's been fantastic since debuting in the UFC in 2017. He's 4-2 with four wins by knockout and has won performance bonuses in each of his fights. At 21-2 with 18 knockouts and a submission win, the 31-year-old Gaethje is for real.

While Saturday's bout shouldn't be a cakewalk for Ferguson, if he wins and is as entertaining as usual, he'll have to be mentioned among the biggest MMA stars in the world. It's his chance to grab that spotlight.