When fighter’s stories are penned, they generally aren’t completed with happy endings. In boxing, think of Larry Holmes destroying Muhammad Ali, literally begging the referee to stop the fight. Then less than decade later, it was Mike Tyson absolutely devastating Holmes into submission. In the realm of UFC, the ultimate demise of Anderson Silva comes to mind. Once the most dominant and feared performer in the entire promotion, Silva hung on well past his prime, suffering one-sided beatdowns. He lost seven of his last eight decisions, four of those losses coming via knockout. As sure as there are favorites and underdogs 2, there are just as many tales of woe of fighters who hung on too long, seeking another shot at glory. Is Tony Ferguson destined to be one of those sad sack stories?
A dominant performer in the lightweight division for years, he goes into his fight at UFC 262 on May 15th in Houston, Texas against Beneil Dariush off to the first back-to-back losses of his career and as a betting longshot. This story has recipe for disaster written all over it.
Can Ferguson Rebound?
The former interim UFC lightweight champion, Tony Ferguson is still the No. 5-ranked fighter in the weight class, despite consecutive losses to Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira. Not only hadn’t Ferguson ever suffered back-to-back losses at any stage prior during his career, before being knocked out in the fifth round by Gaethje in their interim UFC lightweight title bout, he hadn’t lost to anybody in almost eight years.
Ferguson, 25-5, put together a 12-fight winning streak from October 19th, 2013, when he submitted Mike Rio, through June 8th, 2019, when he scored a second-round TKO doctor stoppage verdict over Donald Cerrone. When it came to dominant lightweights, only perennial UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov could lord over Ferguson when it came to dominance of the division.
That circumstances dictated the two were to never meet in the octagon was perhaps the greatest disappointing development in the history of the promotion. Nurmagomedov pulled out of their first fight due to injury. The second scheduled bout was called off due to a lung ailment contracted by Tony Ferguson. A third attempt to schedule the bout was made. This time, Nurmagomedov was hospitalized due to the effects of his weight cut for the bout.
The fourth rescheduling ended under the most bizarre of circumstances. Ferguson blew out his knee walking on stage during a press event for the fight. Ferguson tore the fibular collateral ligament in his knee. A fifth attempt was called off after the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Nurmagomedov from leaving his native Russia.
“Chasing after a guy like Khabib and then trying to get the fight and then not getting the fight and then having interim belts dangled in front of you, the game is what it is,” Ferguson told Submission Radio.
Learning From His Losses
At 37, logic suggests that writing off Ferguson as he faces Dariush, five years his junior, would be the course of action to take. Tony Ferguson, though, flat out scoffs at any notion that this is a do or die bout for his career. In fact, he insists that his recent setbacks have set him straight.
“Seriously, I take all the fault and all my blame on it, but the two losses that I had . . . it was the best learning experience I probably could’ve ever had and the best thing that was for me and my family,” Ferguson said. “How you play the game is exactly your approach. And that’s what I did for this year. I completely changed my approach.”
He compared his defeat to Oliveira to another piece of fictional fighting lore, Rocky Balboa’s stunning loss to Clubber Lang in Rocky III. In training for his bout with Dariush, Ferguson has enlisted the assistance of legendary boxing cornerman Freddie Roach, the longtime trainer of multiple world champion Manny Pacquiao. He’s been working out at Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles, alongside both champions and up and comers.
“I started surrounding myself around people that are hungry how I am and how they’ve been for a long time,” Tony Ferguson said. “And I started to find myself over at Wild Card a lot easier, because that’s where I knew that I could find that kind of grind.
“You’ve got amateurs, you’ve got pros, and you have Olympians,” he continued. “And you have a different look at everything, but the grind is still the same. And it’s nice to be around that because of that structure.”