UFC lightweight Tony Ferguson says his recovery from knee surgery last month is already ahead of schedule, and he intends to return to the Octagon before the end of the year.
Exactly what circumstances he will return under remains to be seen.
Ferguson (23-3) won the UFC's interim lightweight title last October, and he was scheduled to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the official belt at UFC 223 last month. He was forced to pull out of that bout, however, when he suffered a freak injury during a UFC media day.
Nurmagomedov (26-0) went on to defeat late replacement Al Iaquinta at UFC 223, to become the division's undisputed champion. UFC president Dana White has stated Ferguson's interim title is no more, which Ferguson strongly disagrees with.
"The doctor told me recovery time is anywhere from three to six months with this kind of procedure, but I heal quick," Ferguson told ESPN. "Whenever Khabib's b---- ass comes back, that's when I'll be back. I'm thinking November.
"The UFC has indicated my title is gone and Khabib is the only champion at 155 pounds, but the UFC hasn't mentioned anything official to my management. As far as I'm concerned, I'm still the true 155-pound champion. I never lost my belt."
Nurmagomedov has mentioned a possible November return, however he has another obvious opponent in Conor McGregor -- the UFC's former lightweight champion who famously tried to attack Nurmagomedov while he was in a UFC bus in Brooklyn.
"Kneeded This" 👊🤨 🇺🇸🏆🇲🇽 Ready for surgery! Not excited about the recovery, but I'm no stranger to hard work. Thank you everyone who supports me & thank you to everyone who believes in me. -XTA- 👪🐾🐾🦎 #TeamElCucuy #TonyFergusonMMA SnapJitsu™️ #SnapDownCity My Mat. 🙏😎 Thanks Doc #SnapIntuit#MyRoadToRecoveryXT #Repost @xtfergie ・・・ I declare that God has a great plan for my life. He is directing my steps. And even though I may not always understand how, I know my situation is not a surprise to God. He will work out every detail to my advantage. In his perfect timing, everything will turn out right. 🙏🏼 Prayers as my love goes into surgery this morning @tonyfergusonxt #hispath #roadtorecovery #bebackstrongerthanever #mrscucuy #stillmychamp
If the UFC chooses to book that fight, or any other lightweight title fight that doesn't involve Ferguson, it could mean a huge financial loss for the California native. Ferguson makes more money as a champion, and was supposed to receive a pay-per-view bonus at UFC 223.
"That's a big middle finger to 'T-Ferg' right there -- that's a kick to the groin if they do that," Ferguson said. "At the end of the day, does the UFC really like its fighters? I'm one of their toughest fighters. Don't kick me when I'm down.
"I missed out on pay-per-view points, my purse, a big payday; a lot of things behind the scenes. They have to either give me my title back or make sure I'm fighting under that same contract. I've earned that."
Ferguson's agent Audie Attar, who also represents McGregor, told ESPN he shares Ferguson's position when it comes to the loss of the interim title and any financial windfall that may come as a result.
"Tony was set to make a significant purse for that fight -- the highest on the card -- as well as a share of pay-per-view revenues," Attar said. "As Tony has stated himself, he missed out on millions of dollars due to this injury, which was devastating for him and his family.
"To the best of our knowledge, there has never been a scenario where the UFC stripped a champion of his title due to a short-term injury. Ever. Let alone one sustained the week before he was scheduled to defend his belt, during a work appearance. UFC's own employees were there to witness and hear the 'pop' when Tony's knee gave out.
"Our position is Tony is still the champion and therefore required to defend that belt. And further, is contractually entitled to be compensated as the champion for his next fight and all fights thereafter until someone defeats him. We trust this situation will be handled professionally."
Ferguson, 34, is riding a 10-fight winning streak, including seven finishes.
He believes he's done his job as a fighter and wants the UFC to recognize that by not taking away the belt and contractual rewards he feels he's earned. He understands the promotional appeal of Nurmagomedov and McGregor, but said he hopes the UFC still does right by him.
"I thought Al Iaquinta did a great job at UFC 223, but Khabib is going to say he won the Super Bowl after he faced the third string?" he said. "No way, dude. So many people hold him up on a high horse, but I see his flaws. I wasn't impressed with anything he did.
"I think the UFC is going to do what they want to do, like any other time. But it's disrespectful to me to strip my title. I should still be the interim champion. In fact, I should be the champion and Khabib should be the interim champion."