"I won the 170-pound Ultimate Fighter and that basically got my foot in the door. Now I have to take it to another level." - Tony Ferguson
Tony Ferguson’s last visit to The Palms in Las Vegas was only six months ago, but it might as well be forever, considering the change in circumstances since he was preparing to fight Ramsey Nijem for the Ultimate Fighter season 13 title in June.
Back then, he was like all other TUF finalists from throughout the years, hoping to earn a UFC contract and secure his situation as a professional fighter. Now, he’s two wins into his career in the Octagon and hoping to make it three in a row when he faces veteran Yves Edwards this Saturday on the TUF14 finale card. Quite a change in fortunes.
“It’s awesome to know that all I have to worry about is fighting,” said the 27-year old, who knocked out Nijem for the TUF 13 crown and then stopped Aaron Riley in September. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that. And that’s every fighter’s thing because not everybody has the opportunity to be able to train all day every day.”
So if anyone on Saturday’s card can relate to what the TUF 14 fighters are going through right now, wondering if they’ll be UFC fighters or back to the local circuit on Sunday morning, it’s Ferguson.
“It was intense,” he said of the fight week anticipation. “It’s like a rollercoaster ride. The shorter that the line goes, the more the intense that the feeling is gonna get. (Coach) Marty Morgan was there to help me alleviate a lot of that by my intense workouts, being in a structured environment, and just being able to make sure that I was under control.”
He also took emotion out of it, a key for him not only on that night, but moving forward.
“I went into that one (against Nijem) with no anger,” said Ferguson. “I went in there strictly technical and I had nothing against anybody. We were talking to people and they were like, is there any animosity between us, and there wasn’t. And once I have that, that nervousness is gonna turn into fear.”
Calm, cool, and collected on fight night, Ferguson took just 3:54 to halt his fellow prospect, then in September he dropped to 155 pounds and stopped Riley, a seasoned vet who taught Ferguson plenty in the five minutes they spent together in the Octagon.
“That’s the whole purpose of all this,” he said. “Regardless of the money and everything else, the one thing you need to be able to take away from all this is the experience you gain from the opponent that you’re facing. My dad used to tell me ‘don’t go up to the wrestling chart. It’s not gonna matter what name or what record is in front of you; you have to worry about what you’re gonna do.’ And that’s what I took to Aaron Riley. I did my research and my homework on him afterwards.”
That’s not the case this time around though, as he prepares for one of Riley’s old rivals from back in the Hook ‘n Shoot days – Yves Edwards.
“I’ve done my homework on Yves, but he’s all over the place,” said Ferguson of a fighter who has won 15 fights by knockout and 17 by submission. “I’ve asked some Muay Thai guys and they said that he’s a little bit older and might not want to stand up with me. Then you get mixed feelings from everybody else, but you’ve got your own intuition as well, so that’s why I make sure all my T’s are crossed and my I’s are dotted. I’m not just looking at one thing. I have to learn from every single fight. I’ve done that since my first amateur fight, and this is a new game.”
Not for Edwards it isn’t, so when the bell rings, the creator of “Thug-Jitsu” will not only have his talent to work with, but over 14 years of pro experience on his side. Ferguson remains steely in his conviction that his time has come though.
“I see that I’m Yves ten years ago,” he said. “I’m exactly how he was – hungry. We’re in a new spot and in a new evolution of mixed martial arts and the possibilities are endless now. With Yves, he’s coming back, but he’s not gonna beat me. The way I see it, I’m the new generation. It’s the transition between the guys that started this stuff and the guys that are coming up now.
If anything, Ferguson, 13-2, has earned the right to be confident heading into his third UFC bout, yet while he is convinced that he has the skill set to do big things in the sport, he knows that Edwards is a huge test in front of him and one he has to respect. So he does.
“Nothing is ever after your opponent,” said the Oxnard, California native. “I’m not a UFC lightweight champ, I’m not anything else. I won the 170-pound Ultimate Fighter and that basically got my foot in the door. Now I have to take it to another level. If I preach this evolution of a fighter and I’m not doing anything, it’s just a lot of jibber-jabber.”
So when you ask him for some words of wisdom to give to the fighters now standing where he stood just six months ago, it’s all about the work.
“My best advice for those guys would be to go out there and work your ass off,” he said. “There’s not much you can do now. It’s what (TUF13 coach) Brock (Lesnar) told me – the hay’s in the barn.”