Had things gone differently, it could have been Khabib Nurmagomedov, not Kevin Lee, facing Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight championship in the Octagon.
According to matchmaker Sean Shelby, Nurmagomedov was offered a bout against Ferguson at UFC 217, which takes place at Madison Square Garden in New York. However, the Dagestani grappler will apparently not be available until closer to the end of the year at the earliest.
“Just to clear things up, a fight was offered to Nurmagomedov Nov. 4. At that point we were trying to put cards together towards the end of the year,” Shelby said on UFC 216 ”Watch List.”
“I was informed that he could not make that date, and he probably wouldn’t be able to fight until at least December. That left Tony without a dance partner. It’s not just about one guy, it’s about two guys.”
As a result, Ferguson was paired with rising contender Kevin Lee in an interim title fight at UFC 216, which takes place on Oct. 7 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. While Lee is not as highly ranked as Nurmagomedov, the 25-year-old “Motown Phenom” has won nine of his last 10 Octagon appearances, including triumphs over Michael Chiesa, Francisco Trinaldo and Magomed Mustafaev.
“Kevin Lee was there,” Shelby said. “I mean, look at his resume as of late. He’s just a phenomenal fighter. He’s doing fantastic. Right now, I think he’s the hottest thing in the division. At first I thought he was an overachiever, but I’m a believer now.”