The Mental Fortitude of Tony Ferguson

Anthony Armand Ferguson is the epitome of breaking mental barriers of both pain and loss, overcoming struggles and strife from every direction and finding a way to Evolve out of his predicaments. And though his career may not be as flawless now as it was in 2019, El Cucuy is still indisputably the scariest fighter in the lightweight division.

The Win Streak

Straight out of the The Ultimate Fighter(that he won), Tony found himself inside the wild world of the UFC. Ferguson had a wicked mindset that his peers and competitors often couldn’t wrap their heads around. From his training to his press conferences, Tony displayed his unique training, personality and skills repeatedly. 

His first match up in the UFC against Michael Johnson wasn’t a pretty one, he lost that match but it helped Tony change the frame through which he was looking at the world. He rebuilt his skills and added a few new ingenious ones. Then began the RUN.

12 fights, over the course of six years and every fight was pure Boogeyman domination. The list of fighters that were brought down in Tony’s Platinum Era were all excellent fighters, with accolades and winstreaks themselves. None of that got in the way of Ferguson. He masterfully applied the famed Darce technique, not to mention multiple submissions and overwhelming technical knockouts to bring down veterans and monsters alike. The likes of Rafael dos Anjos, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, and Kevin Lee were only bloodsport for the Boogeyman.

Interim Title Vs Khabib

He climbed the ranks from the bottom of the barrel (rank 52) after the Johnson fight to rank 1 contender against who we now know to be the Eagle Khabib Nurmagomedov. But Tony had no fear of him either, he called Dana to put the fight together despite the clout surrounding Khabibs similar rise to the top.

The amount of times this fight got made and canceled left every fight and MMA lover in utter disappointment. During this time period Tony suffered a serious knee injury (LCL) that often takes more than a year to recover from and otherwise is career ending. Tony, however, took his rehabilitation as crucial to his success and was displaying footwork and motivation in the UFC press conferences within 6 months.

Although it was justified with injuries and visa issues, this was the fight that El Cucuy needed to convert his belt from interim to official Champion. Five times the UFC tried and failed to fulfill this battle between two giants.

The Replacement Justin Gaethje

The fifth time was the end of an era.

During the Corona pandemic, on April 18th, 2020, the final date had been set for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson but due to the pandemic and corona restrictions in Russia, Khabib was unable to leave the country. Tony meanwhile was ready for a fight against the Dagestani wrestler, however the UFC remade the fight with Justin Gaethje, a fighter with a completely different style than what Tony had prepared for (not that that ever deterred the Boogeyman).

The fight was a demolition site from the Gaethje corner. No one had ever witnessed Tony be dominated so significantly by another fighter and after five rounds of destruction from Justin’s hands, the decision was an easy one. Tony was sent to the hospital for the damage he had received and released a video of him dancing from the hospital room in good spirits despite the decision loss. However the interim belt he had earned over a 12 fight win streak, was no longer his to claim.

Charles Oliveira, Anointing The New King

 

After the loss against Justin, the Tony hype-train had slowed down significantly. His potential fight options began reducing and the top 10 began avoiding his bloodbath battles. The only fighter who didn’t shy away from fights against El Cucuy was Charles “Do Bronxx” Oliveira who not only respected him as a fighter but also saw the Mexican American, Tony, to be a kindred spirit.

In the first round Charles locked in and effectively executed a bone breaking arm bar, but Tony Ferguson didn’t tap despite the serious risk of his arm being permanently injured. Charles won against Tony by decision after three rounds, his first decision win in 6 years. Tony gave Do Bronxx the opportunity to rise the ranks and become the new challenger for the belt, alongside the newly signed Bellator Star Michael Chandler. Charles went on to become champion and Tony embraced and celebrated both his achievement in the fight against him and Michael Chandler.

Acl Pops Against Dariush

His career seemed to be ending. Despite his amazing social media presence, Tony began to seem like another person entirely, becoming more and more reclusive, reportedly even paranoid and unstable. The Dariush fight was another significant loss that didn’t show improvement or progress for Tony. He seemed to be demotivated, uncoached and alone in the octagon. Though he had a crew in the corner, Tony was officially without a team. His relationship with the UFC was deteriorating rapidly and his personal life was being inadvertently affected by all of this. He needed to change something fast.

Dariush was relentless in this fight. He broke through Tony’s defenses and brought him to the ground where he began dropping meteor punches to Tony’s body and head. One of the most talked-about moments of the fight was when Dariush had a tight heel hook applied on Ferguson. The submission hold visibly hurt Ferguson as he appeared to be wincing in pain. The serious fans, though recognize, the mental strength and physical endurance it takes not to tap out to such a submission attempt. Tony went on to fully recover from the damage to his leg (ACL) and his movement returned to normal not long after the fight.

Vintage Ferg Vs Iron Mike

Leading up to the fight, Ferguson showed no real change in performance or mindset; the UFC promos themselves seemed to show Tony’s hometurf empty but real CSO fans knew that he had been lowkey rebuilding his foundations and even brought back his high school wrestling coach Dave Mills. Tony had Evolved into a different person altogether, the world just hadn’t seen it yet. 

As soon as the press conferences started, everyone was witness to a brand new El Cucuy. The Boogeyman had resurfaced from the shadows to not only annihilate his competition but also (respectfully) the UFC promotion for their fighter treatment. Tony complained about fighters not having health insurance, retirement pay and further contract lengths being altered and his interim title being taken away after his freak (LCL) accident at UFC 223. 

The fight began with Tony springing to action akin to the youth he had coming out of The Ultimate Fighter. He parried most of the punches and blocked all the kicks, after Chandler closed the distance the elbow blades began slicing. After he was taken to the ground, Chandler was in serious danger of getting hurt and a punch to the face gave Iron Mike double vision. With that round one was closed. Round 2 ended with Tony getting knocked out by a completely unexpected front leg kick. 

Though we saw a different Tony Ferguson in round 1 from the Tony that had fought against any other of his previous losses. He looked like a young fighter, hungry for glory and gold. Eager to improve his game, mindset and abilities.

Tony was taken to the hospital immediately and released from emergency care soon after. He spoke up about the fight and how it was the first time he had ever been knocked out. He spoke about how good he felt in round 1 and both the fans of the sport and fighters alike had only praise for his comeback and strength of will.

The Boogeyman Will Return

Tony Ferguson is nowhere near done fighting despite the desperation with which Dana White has attempted to ask him to take time off. He is ready for a new fight. His peers and competition, Charles Oliveira, Chuck Liddell, Brock Lesner and even former nemesis Khabib The Eagle wants to Coach The Ultimate Fighter against him at Eagle FC (Khabibs Promotion). So we will get to see El Cucuy again. Soon.

“I’m beyond grateful my movements are OK, my bones are intact and except for a slight headache in the mornings, I’m glad to be back and doing what I love,” continued Ferguson. “I want to be better than yesterday for sure, not for anyone else but for me.”