“I know he's going to be game, but so am I. I'm bringing it 150% all the
time every day, so he's going to have to worry about me." - Tony Ferguson
Tony Ferguson is a successful athlete.
Actually, make that a “very” successful athlete. UFC fans know Ferguson best for being the most recent winner of The Ultimate Fighter at welterweight in June. And this wasn’t the first time Ferguson has been rewarded in a particular sport with accolades and a championship. He has enjoyed a long standing tradition with winning throughout high school, college, and, now, in the UFC. Ferguson’s dedication to winning in other sports is now entirely focused on his career in the Octagon and the competition better watch out because “El Cucuy”, aka the Spanish boogieman, is coming for them.
“I'm an athlete,” states Ferguson. “I'm an all around athlete. I played football, baseball and I wrestled and I varsity lettered in all of them year after year. MMA is a sport and I'm glad to be an athlete in it. It's my passion. Wrestling was my passion and I've been wrestling since I was six. This is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I'm able to compete at a professional level, make some money, create my own niche, be able to express myself and be able to fall back on it when I want to teach it. MMA is the best thing that ever happened to me and then being employed by the UFC is the next. It's not going to stop here. I want to earn my right to fight for that belt. Winning that tournament took a lot of work, but it is just one of the steps and I'm willing to work harder to keep going in this. Rome wasn't built in a night.”
The first stone laid in Ferguson’s UFC empire was winning the 13th season of TUF with a first round knockout victory over Ramsey Nijem. As if winning TUF wasn’t enough, Ferguson was also awarded “Knockout of the Night” honors. This capped off Ferguson’s clean sweep of finishing all of his opponents - Justin Edwards, Ryan McGillivray, and Chuck O’Neil - by KO/TKO in his stint on TUF. He was also Team Lesnar’s third pick, and following the show, Ferguson continued to train with Lesnar and his team, DeathClutch, to prepare for the finale.
“That was probably the craziest six weeks of my life living in that house,” admits Ferguson. “Anything that could have happened happened and it was a life learning experience. I learned a lot about myself and I bettered myself. I got stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally. When I was over at DeathClutch preparing for Ramsey, it just prepared me mentally to kick some butt. I'm here to win. I wasn't there to lose. When I was on the show I made friends, but I was there to win. It was a tournament and I'm used to tournaments because I'm a wrestler. The one thing about wrestling tournaments, you can look up your opponents, but it doesn't matter once you're out there and on the mat. Names don't matter. It's all about skills and talent and that's what I brought to the table.”
Now, the 27-year old’s skills and talents are locked onto a new target and with that a new division. On September 24th at UFC 135 in Denver, Ferguson will drop to 155 and take on veteran Aaron Riley. The move to lightweight was made per the suggestion of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, which Ferguson took, and he is ready for the challenges that await him, namely Riley. The Jackson’s MMA product has a 29-12-1 record and is coming off a decision win over Joe Brammer at UFC 114.
“He's got a lot of good people he's working with, he's going to bring his A game, he's a well rounded fighter and I see him coming out striking and then trying to take me down kind of like how Ramsey did,” estimates Ferguson, who at 12-2 has a fraction of the fights Riley has, but has more than enough confidence in himself to make up for any lack of experience. “I know he's going to be game, but so am I. I'm bringing it 150% all the time every day, so he's going to have to worry about me. The UFC is the premier place for me to work and I'm going to be fighting here for years, so he's going to have to get through me if he wants to stick around.”
The Grand Valley State University alum has competed at lightweight once before, which was in March 2010 against David Gardner. “I was more aggressive in that fight,” laughs Ferguson, who is already an offensive minded fighter with 11 of his 12 wins coming by stoppage (8 KO/TKO, 3 sub). “When I don't want to cut weight and I have to cut weight it makes me a little bit more aggressive. I was mentally more focused and zeroed in because I had to cut weight.”
To prepare for his second fight in the Octagon, “El Cucuy” has been cutting his time between team DeathClutch in Alexandria, Minnesota and, his previous gym, Knuckleheadz Boxing in Ventura, California. In his four fights involving TUF, Ferguson showed off the hard work he had put in transforming himself from an NCAA division II national championship winner to a fearsome knockout puncher. Ferguson’s two gyms appear to be a perfect fit to continue that evolution as a wrestler with Marty Morgan (DeathClutch) and Joe "Hoss" Janik (Knuckleheadz). For good measure, Ferguson also does some training with Greg Nelson and the plethora of UFC stars at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy.
All this coaching, all this time training, and all this effort, it’s exactly what he wants to get stronger and better himself in the UFC. And, it’s always been this way for Ferguson - numerous sports and numerous coaches with an endless amount of practice. His success in sports is only matched by his drive to continue it. Ferguson is a determined machine, churning up time in dark gyms to put on stellar performances when the lights are on and it matters most.
“I remember every single drill that every coach that I've ever had made us do, whether its footwork drills or pushups - it doesn't matter,” he explains. “I remember it in my head and I still utilize all of it. When I played football, I was a cornerback and we won state in 2000 and we played where the Detroit Lions play. I still wear my championship ring on my right hand. I wear my team national championship ring from Grande Valley State on my left. I succeeded in three sports: football, baseball and wrestling. That's what kept me out of trouble and kept me in school. I had to keep my GPA up to play and I had to practice if I was going to play. In mixed martial arts, I feel like if I'm not going to give 150% in there then I'm not going to invite my family to watch me fight because I'm going to go in there and get knocked out. That's why I put in my time to practice and I give my effort.”
This Saturday, the up and comer is looking to begin his stay in the lightweight division with a win over Riley. “My opponents should fear me,” affirms Ferguson, who wants his winning of TUF to be a starting point for only greater victories to come in the Octagon. “I'm a shape-shifter in there and I adapt and evolve to exactly what is at hand. Once that cage door closes, my opponent has to deal with me. There's only one person in that cage that's going to save them and that's the ref.”
And once that ref steps in, it’s another win for “El Cucuy”.