CHICAGO — Two overlooked UFC stars face off Saturday in a three-round lightweight fight that could bring some clarity to a chaotic division.
The winner of the UFC 238 bout between Tony Ferguson and Donald Cerrone could get a lightweight title fight against the winner of September's match between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier. Ferguson is the No. 2 contender in the weight class, and Cerrone is No. 4.
But potential scheduling conflicts could impact the coveted title shot. Nurmagomedov's agent has plans for his client to face Georges St-Pierre at some point, and Conor McGregor, the No. 3 contender, is holding out for a rematch against Nurmagomedov after he lost to the current lightweight champ at UFC 229.
Ferguson (25-3) has won his last 11 fights, which is tied with Nurmagomedov for the longest active streak in the UFC. Cerrone (36-11) is the winningest fighter in UFC history.
Ferguson, a former interim lightweight champ, and Cerrone are on the same page when it comes to their opinion of McGregor and Nurmagomedov holding up the division. Nurmagomedov and McGregor were suspended after a post-fight brawl at UFC 229 in October.
"I feel one day they're going to look back and they're not going to feel so good about some of the stuff they have done to try to make this sport the way it is," Ferguson said. "That's where you have my guy, Cowboy (Cerrone), and myself, we're going to go out there and clean this stuff up, just like the old west."
Cerrone called out McGregor after his convincing win over Al Iaquinta on May 4.
"Conor had his shot," Cerrone said.
Saturday's fight was finalized just one week after Cerrone beat Iaquinta, giving Cerrone less than a month to prepare for Ferguson.
"This guy (Cerrone) is a beast," UFC president Dana White said. "If he wins on Saturday night he will turn around and want to fight again in July or August. That's the type of guy he is. That's why the fans love him and that's why I love him."
White wanted to be clear Ferguson was OK to return to the cage after dealing with personal issues from several months ago. He has not been in the cage since beating Anthony Pettis in October.
"He got his personal issues handled. We felt confident and comfortable he was ready to fight," White said. "He and I sat down and we worked it out. He was upset about being stripped. As he should be, so we got the whole thing worked out and we're in a good spot now."
Ferguson had his interim belt taken away when he wasn't able to compete against Nurmagomedov at UFC 223 due to a knee injury.
"It was a lot of emotional damage," Ferguson said. "I don't really try to get to close to him (White). He's not my boss. I work for the company. I'm not trying to be his best friend."
Saturday's main card also features two title fights.
In the main event, flyweight champ Henry Cejudo (14-2) moves up to bantamweight to fight Marlon Moraes (22-5-1) for the vacated bantamweight championship.
Cejudo defended his flyweight belt against former bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw with a first-round knockout in January. Dillashaw went down to flyweight to chase his second belt, but he was stopped by Cejudo in just over 30 seconds, and had his belt stripped after he failed pre- and post-fight drug tests.
Cejudo is trying to become the fourth fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight divisions.
In a women's flyweight title fight, Valentina Shevchenko (16-3) will put her belt on the line as a heavy favourite against Jessica Eye (14-6).