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Is Tony Ferguson the most exciting fighter in MMA?

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS – There are fighters in the UFC that you can absolutely bank on delivering a jaw-dropping bout every time they compete.

That list includes, but is hardly limited to, fighters like Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone, Diego Sanchez and Edson Barboza, Nate Diaz and Jim Miller, Frankie Edgar and Justin Gaethje.

And then there is Tony Ferguson, the No. 2 lightweight in the UFC’s rankings who just may be in a league of his own when it comes to bringing the fans out of their seats with mind-blowing fight action.

Ferguson will face Kevin Lee on Saturday in the main event of UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena for the interim lightweight belt. As fight night nears, it’s remarkable that Ferguson isn’t a bigger name – the biggest name – considering what he delivers every time out.

If you’re not a fight fan, Ferguson will make you one. If you are, he’ll keep you enthralled night after night with high-paced, high-contact, TV-friendly action.

Ferguson is on a nine-fight winning streak, which is tied for the seventh-longest in UFC history. Consider, though, his last five:

• Feb. 28, 2015, a first-round submission of Gleison Tibau with a rear-naked choke at UFC 184 in Los Angeles. That earned him a Performance of the Night bonus.

• July 15, 2015, a three-round unanimous decision victory over Josh Thomson at UFC Fight Night in San Diego, which also earned a Performance of the Night bonus.

• Dec. 11, 2015, a second-round submission of Barboza with a D’Arce choke at “The Ultimate Fighter Finale” in Las Vegas in which Ferguson earned Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night bonuses.

• July 13, 2016, a second-round submission of Lando Vannata with a D’Arce choke in Sioux Falls, S.D., that won Fight of the Night.

• Nov. 5, 2016, a five-round unanimous decision victory over ex-lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in Mexico City that was also Fight of the Night.

Can UFC turn the Tony Ferguson-Kevin Lee winner into a superstar?

That’s five wins in five fights, including four submissions that earned him Three Fight of the Night bonuses and three Performance of the Night bonuses.

On top of wondering how he didn’t get any more consideration for 2015 Fighter of the Year, are there any questions about Ferguson that he hasn’t answered?

Is it even a question that he’s not only among the elite of his division but that he’s among the elite in any division? Ferguson’s exclusion from the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings destroys the credibility of the voters, where 11 of the 15 didn’t think he was as much as the 15th-best fighter in the UFC.

If you’re not among the 15 best in the UFC regardless of weight after winning nine in a row and 12 of 13 along with a Knockout of the Night, a Submission of the Night, three Performance of the Nights and three Fights of the Night, well, I’m not sure what else the man can do.

Ferguson doesn’t have to worry about such petty things given he has the opportunity to win a title belt on Saturday. Beating Lee, who himself has been on a roll, would not only make him a champion but it would increase his visibility worldwide.

“I believe I’m the best lightweight in this division,” Ferguson said. “I don’t know about Kevin, but I know for sure that I’ve earned my place here. I’ve got nine consecutive victories … and the only person who can really touch on that is [flyweight champion] Demetrious Johnson. When you put in the numbers and you put in the time and you put in the effort, you’re going to get something out of it. And I just got down from the mountain and I feel like a Neanderthal, man, and I’m not putting up with anybody’s [expletive]. This is my time.”

Ferguson has been an angry young man as fight night approaches. He’s been overshadowed, as so many fighters have, by the near-total eclipse cast by lightweight champion Conor McGregor.

McGregor, who is not scheduled for a fight and who has never defended either of the two titles he has won in the UFC, hasn’t discussed his plans. Talk, though, is that he’ll wind up facing Diaz in his next outing, settling their series with a rubber match.

That raises Ferguson’s ire, and it doesn’t take much to set ‘El Cucuy’ off. He nearly got into a brawl with ex-heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum last week when Werdum spoke while Ferguson was speaking to the media at a luncheon in Los Angeles.

The thought that he’s fighting for an interim belt and isn’t guaranteed to get McGregor with a win blows him away.

“It’s been my division before ‘McNuggets’ even stepped into this [expletive],” Ferguson said. “Even when I was at Paradigm Sports Management (which also manages McGregor) he signed up at 145 pounds and the agreement was he wasn’t going to come up to 155 pounds, but that raises a conflict of interest.

“I’m pissed. That [expletive] needs to fight me or he needs to fight the guy that’s holding the belt.”

Ferguson spent the last two months training about 7,000 feet elevation in Big Bear Lake, California. He’s always been magnificently conditioned, but he’s pushed himself this time beyond where he’s ever been before.

He’s been publicly dismissive of Lee, but he obviously knows that Lee, while less experienced, is the total package.

Ferguson, though, knows what he wants and has done everything in his power to make it happen.

“It’s cold, it’s dark, I’m running with the bears and the coyotes and I’m [a expletive] roadrunner, man,” Ferguson said of his work in Big Bear. “I’ve been out there literally climbing thousands and thousands of feet every single day with 50-pound packs and once I get to the top I’m doing mitts and I’m flipping boulders and I’m carrying this [expletive].

“I’m being a Neanderthal man. I’m a mountain man right now, so any of all this [expletive] that’s going to try to bring me down, I’m putting it to the side and I just can’t wait till I get my hands on this kid.”