If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then it's clear what Tony Ferguson is doing to contrast the riches Conor McGregor has achieved this year.
"I look at character. I can see right through people," Costa Mesa's Ferguson – wearing a simple black hoodie and jeans to a meeting with reporters – said recently after closing an intense training camp in Big Bear. "I'm not fake. My outfit probably cost less than $100."
On Saturday night at Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena, Ferguson (23-3) puts his nine-fight UFC winning streak on the line when he meets Kevin Lee (16-2) in the UFC 216 main-event bout for the organization's interim lightweight title.
Lee put a scare into Ferguson and the UFC by nearly missing weight Friday. He weighed 156 pounds – one pound over the limit – at the UFC's 11 a.m. deadline. But Nevada Athletic Commission rules allow a fighter to shed as much as two pounds with a one-hour extension, and a stressed Lee returned nude behind a towel to weigh 154.5 pounds.
The fight's interim tag is there because Ireland's charismatic McGregor hasn't been in the octagon since winning the 155-pound belt in November.
McGregor took an extended break to await the birth of his son, then lost by 10th-round technical knockout to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in an Aug. 26 novelty boxing match. The fight drew about 4 million pay-per-view buys and likely put $100 million in McGregor's pocket after he promoted the bout wearing designer suits and a mink coat.
In a recent interview, McGregor said fighting the Ferguson-Lee winner next might be his best option as Nate Diaz perhaps is pricing himself out of a trilogy fight against McGregor.
"Somewhere along the line, righteousness and virtue has gotten skipped," Ferguson said, knocking the UFC for yielding to its No. 1 breadwinner's wishes. "... Good for (McGregor). He has a lot of likes, a lot of followers. I might not be as marketable as Conor. I don't care. I make my money winning and I'm here to remind everybody."
Ferguson has also been sidelined since November after Russia's No. 1 lightweight contender, Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0), fell ill trying to make weight for their March fight. Nurmagomedov could be ready to fight the Ferguson-Lee winner in late December, the fighter's manager told The Times on Friday.
Seventh-ranked Lee, a strong wrestler riding a five-fight win streak, is seen by the UFC as such a formidable test that it kept the fight as the main event even after the scrapped September flyweight title fight between champion Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg was shifted to Saturday's card.
Johnson can break longtime middleweight champion Anderson Silva's UFC-record 10 consecutive successful title defenses by defeating Borg.
"I'm looking to make a finish," said Johnson, who told reporters he's receiving a cut of the pay-per-view profits for the first time in his career. "I'll step back (if the record is set), get to my new house, look at my new fireplace, have a delicious beer and say, 'This is what it feels like.' But the thing about this sport, it's right on to the next one."
While Johnson is his division's full champion, Ferguson's entertainment value and the fact he fights in McGregor's division are being considered, so there is a coattails benefit.
"I'm not here to play this game. I'm here to remind (fighters) this is my show. This is my time. I deserve this," Ferguson said. "I didn't talk my way here. I earned my way here. I'm going to fight like I have a chip on my shoulder."
Ferguson was so agitated at a UFC 216 luncheon last week he nearly fought with heavyweight Fabricio Werdum, who is handled by Nurmagomedov's manager.
He also got moody with The Times on Thursday, prompting someone close to him to remark, "That's Tony being Tony."
Said Lee: "He's a weirdo."
McGregor's trainer has speculated the Irishman could return to the UFC on St. Patrick's Day evening, but when Ferguson was asked if he expects himself or someone else to be the opponent, he responded, "I'm not going to prepare for a fight that's not there.
"The rankings go out the window" for McGregor, Ferguson said. "What I do (Saturday) is going to be on their conscience. When that time comes, I'll make them feel guilty.
"One way or another, they're going to run into my (rear). You've got a guy (Nurmagomedov) who can't make weight, a guy (McGregor) who's a no-show. He needs to defend or vacate."
The words require a win over Lee, 25, who could find it difficult after shedding 19 1/2 pounds in less than 24 hours to maintain his endurance if the fight lasts its maximum 25 minutes.
"I ran every night, and sometimes up there you didn't feel like you were running with yourself, so that makes you run a little faster," Ferguson cracked. "I would've been OK. I would've choked (that animal) out. And I will have my hand raised."