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An Inevitable Decline?: Some Concerns About Tony Ferguson

One of the most unmissable competitors in the history of the sport of MMA, Tony Ferguson, has to be considered one of the greatest fighters to never fight for undisputed UFC gold. 

Mexican folklore contains within it the story of El Cucuy, a boogeyman-esque creature who steals away unruly youngsters who disobey those in a position of power.

In reality, the tale is, of course, nothing more than a hoax used by parents as a means of intimidating their children into behaving. A horrifying presence, looming eerily in their thoughts every time that final light-switch is flicked.

And while anyone with half a grasp on what going on in this life can tell you that such things are of no threat to you, within the world of the UFC’s lightweight division lives a man who has taken up that mantle, making it his own.


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If the division’s champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is the man sitting centre-stage on the 155lb throne, Tony Ferguson is hiding in the shadows just out of view, waiting above to pounce on anyone unlucky enough to end up in his cross-hairs.

A fighter who defines the term ‘nightmare-matchup’ no matter who he fights, Tony mixes inhuman cardio, unparalleled creativity, and asphyxiating pressure to smother elite-level athletes in there.

His name is consistently found within the UFC’s all-time record-books – a testament to his pace and ability to be successful no matter where the fight goes.

The great shame, however, comes from the fact that he has never once fought for an undisputed UFC title.

UFC 223 was the only time he was scheduled to actually compete for the belt – a fight with Khabib that would become an official title-matchup as a result of then-champ Conor McGregor being stripped.

Of course, things took a turn for the bizarre as Ferguson was forced to pull out of his long-awaited grudge-match due to a gruesome injury sustained in the most random of fashions during fight-week, marking the fourth time that this fight had been unsuccessfully scheduled.

These things happen.

You can say all you want about the manner in which Tony injured himself but that is beside the point.

The fact that it was McGregor who was given the first shot at dethroning Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 ahead of Ferguson was a move that was understandable to those who have watched the promotion at work in recent years.

Their focus on the short-term financial gains has seen them jump the gun with many questionable match-making decisions.

When one of the most overly-proven contenders the UFC have at their disposal is available to fight on October 6 and they pass him up for a guy who hasn’t competed in two years – you can at least take comfort in the fact that the world’s premier MMA promotion are not trying to hide where their priorities lie these days.

So Ferguson fought Anthony Pettis in the co-main event instead.

Now, with an interim-lightweight title clash set for UFC 236 to account for the absence of Nurmagomedov due to suspension – the fact that there was a hasty decision made to force the division’s movement should not be a surprise.

Tony wasn’t willing to tie himself down to another interim-title matchup after being stripped of the belt he won by defeating Kevin Lee at UFC 215.

Angered by his treatment by both the UFC and the media, the Tony Ferguson that returned to the spotlight for UFC 229 was almost bitter after what had transpired in the months that preceded it.

It’s pretty safe to assume that his rocky-patch with Dana and co. of late was what caused him to make this decision.

Unfortunately, there’s every chance that this call may deprive him of the chance to fully realise his potential.

His eleven fight win-streak is nothing less than essential viewing for any MMA fans who want to see high-level chaos but I must admit that the Ferguson-fan in me is worried that his best days are numbered.

Let’s remind ourselves of three simple facts.

#1: Tony’s career is entering its twilight years

With a career of wins that could well have been worthy title-defenses under different circumstances, Ferguson’s win-streak dates back nearly seven years to a 2012 decision loss to Michael Johnson.

At 35, he is the second-oldest ranked lightweight to Donald Cerrone and with a UFC record that spans fifteen fights, he has already paved out a stellar career in perhaps the toughest division in the game.

Age is only a number but he is four-and-a-half years older than the champ Khabib and his last challenger McGregor.

Max Holloway, who could well have faced him for the interim-title under different circumstances, is a guy who he has outlived by nearly eight years.

#2: He has taken an ungodly amount of damage

Nobody is knocking Ferguson’s endurance and ability to recover but this guy has absorbed some serious punishment in the wars he has so valiantly thrown himself into over the years.

Take his last five fights alone: Edson Barboza, Lando Vannata, RDA, Kevin Lee, Anthony Pettis.

How many hard shots did Tony absorb in those bouts? How many times did he get knocked down?

It has been nothing short of exhilarating to watch but as we’ve seen in the past, these things often catch up with you.

#3: His chances of fighting for the undisputed belt in 2019 are slim at best

As things stand, Ferguson is on the sidelines waiting for the shot at Khabib that he has well and truly earned at this point. The Russian will more-than-likely sit out until after the summer – with him mentioning the possibility of a showdown in Madison Square Garden in November for his return.

Remember here that he probably won’t fight in Vegas.

Let’s say Max Holloway goes out there and completely runs through Dustin Poirier at UFC 236. Am I supposed to believe that the newly-crowned champ-(interim)champ will be passed up for a super-fight with Nurmagomedov in favour of El Cucuy?

Tony pretty clearly angered Dana White by not taking this fight in the first place.

If he wants to fight this year, barring any injuries that give him an entry to one of the inevitable blockbusters, we’ll likely see him in action in yet another contender fight before he can make his first stab at an undisputed UFC title.

Tony may well have made the right call for himself, though, who knows.

Maybe he is carrying an injury or had another genuine reason for not taking this fight but I would be lying if I told you that I don’t have some concerns about how this year plays out for him.

The man is already an exceptional force at 155lbs, an incredibly unique personality, and a true pound-for-pound great of the current era.

I just hope that time doesn’t deprive him of his opportunity to prove it to its fullest before all is said and done.

Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena



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Author: Cillian Cunningham

Lead mixed martial arts writer who can be contacted at [email protected]