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Behind all the Twitter sparring between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, the UFC tried to book the pair a fourth time.

In the latest edition of the UFC’s “Watch List” series, UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby reveals the promotion offered Nurmagomedov (24-0 MMA, 8-0 UFC) a fight with Ferguson (22-3 MMA, 12-1 UFC) at UFC 217. When Nurmagomedov didn’t take the fight, Kevin Lee (16-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC) got the spot, but next week as UFC 216’s headliner in Las Vegas.

“Just to clear things up, a fight was offered to Nurmagomedov on Nov. 4 (at UFC 217), and at that point, we were trying to put cards together toward the end of the year,” UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby told UFC commentator Jon Anik. “I was informed that (Nurmagomedov) could not make that date, and he probably wouldn’t be able to fight until at least December, so that left Tony without a dance partner.”

It’s not clear why Nurmagomedov couldn’t accept the booking for the pay-per-view card at Madison Square Garden in New York City. His longtime manager Ali Abdelaziz did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, the undefeated fighter shifted gears after attacking Ferguson, humbly requesting the winner of the interim lightweight title bout.

Shelby indicated Lee got the golden opportunity because the UFC couldn’t wait for Nurmagomedov.

“We backed Tony up, and Kevin Lee was there,” Shelby said. “Look at his resume as of late. He’s a phenomenal fighter. He’s doing fantastic. Right now, I think he’s the hottest thing in the division.”

When the fight was made, Nurmagomedov and Ferguson traded accusations as to who was at fault for their fourth ill-fated booking. Ferguson said Nurmagomedov’s manager told the UFC that Nurmagomedov wasn’t well enough to fight, and Nurmagomedov claimed Ferguson wouldn’t accept the bout.

UFC President Dana White simply said Nurmagomedov was “not ready.”

But now, Lee will get the chance to upset the balance in the lightweight division. Now on a five-fight win streak, he’s due for the toughest step up in competition against Ferguson, who’s won his past nine bouts.

Potentially waiting for the winner is undisputed champ Conor McGregor, an opponent who guarantees a lucrative payday for the challenger.

For more on UFC 216, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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