On Saturday night, MMA fans saw one of the sport’s best winning streaks come to an end after Tony Ferguson was brutally beaten by Justin Gaethje in the main event at UFC 249.
Ferguson won 12 fights over a seven-year period, making him one of the best to grace the octagon in recent years.
But all good things must come to an end and Gaethje made sure of that as he outclassed the 36-year-old to claim the interim lightweight title inside an empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
Tony Ferguson was brutally beaten by Justin Gaethje in the main event at UFC 249 on Saturday
Gaethje (left) outclassed Ferguson before claiming a fifth-round TKO victory in Florida
The defeat also brought an end to hopes of a dream bout between Ferguson and long-time rival Khabib Nurmagomedov, with Gaethje now first in line to face the Russian for his UFC lightweight title.
It leaves Ferguson licking his wounds before considering a route back to the summit of UFC.
But who could the Mexican-American fight next and what are his options? Here, Sportsmail weighs up his next moves and what lies ahead in terms of potential opponents.
Fans have been robbed of the chance of seeing Khabib Nurmagomedov (left) vs Ferguson
This match-up was teased as Dana White fought to find UFC its new home in the midst of the pandemic.
With fights being rearranged, readjusted or just completely cancelled, Ferguson kept himself busy by calling out the likes of Khabib (who he was originally supposed to fight) and ‘Notorious’ himself, Conor McGregor.
Before Gaethje was announced as Khabib’s replacement, Ferguson called out the Irishman.
He told Ariel Helwani: ‘Nobody else deserves that a** whooping [besides] two people. That’s McNuggets and Team Tiramisu. That is Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor.’
Conor McGregor (pictured) and Ferguson would fight for the chance to face Khabib
And right now, the fight makes sense.
Should the bout take place, the winner would get a shot at the lightweight title, which could see McGregor or Ferguson take on Khabib should the Russian retain against Gaethje.
UFC president White loves putting on a spectacle and the chance to see two of the best trash-talkers in the business go face-to-face will surely whet his appetite.
In the wake of Ferguson’s defeat on Saturday, Dan Hooker’s opportunities in the division just blew wide open.
The Kiwi, who is ranked fifth in the lightweight division, has set his sights on the title picture and was slated to take on Dustin Poirier at UFC San Diego on May 16 before the pandemic saw the event called off.
Now, following Ferguson’s defeat, Hooker is looking to get there even quicker and has voiced his opinion over who he would like to take on next.
‘The Poirier fight is definitely on the cards,’ Hooker told Newshub. ‘I would take that fight.
Dan Hooker, who is ranked fifth in the lightweight division, has set his sights on the title picture
‘But Tony Ferguson, that’s another interesting match up. He was the No 1 contender. We’ll see how the rankings play out after that, if he’s ranked higher than Dustin.
‘I want the highest-ranked fight possible, so I would take that [Ferguson] fight in a heartbeat.’
While it would be an interesting contest, a win for Ferguson would see him re-establish his credentials in the sport by putting one of the division’s rising stars in their place.
While it may not be a fight fans are clamouring for, it would certainly be a fight Ferguson should be considering coming off last weekend’s brutal defeat.
The aforementioned Poirier was being lined up to take on Hooker this weekend before the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The former UFC lightweight title challenger is in a similar position to Ferguson with the pair coming off defeats in big fights while their sights are firmly set on a shot at the title.
As Ferguson searched for a new opponent following Khabib’s withdrawal from UFC 249, Poirier offered to step in despite the timeframe to prepare for the fight.
Poirier currently sits ahead of McGregor in the rankings and would present a similar route the Irishman would offer back into the title picture for Ferguson.
Like Hooker, a win over Poirier would see his stock go back up in the lightweight division while he’d be emulating Khabib’s and McGregor’s feat of beating the 31-year-old.
Dustin Poirier could offer a route back into the title picture given his ranking in the division
In life, some things aren’t meant to be. Ferguson vs Khabib can also be added to that list considering it’s a bout that has been cancelled five times up until this point.
And the fact of the matter is, Ferguson isn’t getting any younger. At 36, he is no spring chicken and his fighting style does him no favours in terms of prolonging his stay in UFC.
He is also set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines after Gaethje broke his eye-socket that will see him serve a lengthy medical suspension.
Saturday’s defeat was also damning in the extent of just how it happened. While he may have claimed to have trained to face Khabib, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Gaethje took this fight on with just five weeks of preparation – and Gaethje still outclassed him.
His time in recovery should allow him to reflect on whether his motivation to reach the pinnacle of the lightweight division is still there or whether now would be the time to call it quits on a stellar career.
Ferguson (left) faces a lengthy spell out after suffering a broken eye-socket against Gaethje