Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather

Conor McGregor’ return to UFC has been all but announced — in the form of a high-stakes fight with interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson.

McGregor hasn’t been seen in the UFC octagon since his highly-publicised boxing rules clash with world champion Floyd Mayweather in August.

But his return has been signposted by UFC President Dana White, who says a clash between the two men “has to happen.”

Jiu-jitsu expert Ferguson, 33, has been interim belt holder since the weekend. He won the title by besting Kevin Lee with a triangle choke at the UFC 217 event in Las Vegas on October 7. It was Ferguson’s tenth win in a row.

And the victory has got him noticed by the people who count. At a press conference, a journalist asked White whether Ferguson had done enough to warrant a fight with lightweight king McGregor.

“Tony is the interim champion and Conor is the champion,” White said. “It’s the fight that makes sense and is the fight that has to happen.”

McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh has talked-up a trilogy bout against long-time rival Nate Diaz in recent weeks, but this match-up that has been dismissed by White. “Diaz has never been talked about — that’s internet bulls***.”

So, Ferguson it is. But who is he?

Tony Ferguson

Ferguson staked a claim as the second-best lightweight during McGregor’s absence from UFC by winning the interim championship against Lee.

“Tony is a busy guy,” White said, talking-up the American’s key attributes after his victory. “He keeps coming forward and throwing all kinds of different things together. And Conor’s awesome. There’s no way this isn’t a great fight — impossible.”

For a clearer look at what makes Ferguson such a formidable opponent for McGregor, you can watch the way he ended the Lee fight below.

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Ferguson has been able to capture an “interim” title because of McGregor’s absence from the sport. Reigning champion McGregor has not fought in a cage since his 2016 knockout victory over Eddie Alvarez.

In his mixed martial arts hiatus, McGregor negotiated a boxing-rules contest against Floyd Mayweather — a bout he lost in the tenth round.

On when fans can expect McGregor to return to UFC, White said: “McGregor partied in Ibiza for a while… but he wants to fight again this year.”

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