Editor Note: This article was published prior to the UFC 279: Diaz vs Ferguson event change. Nate Diaz will now fight Tony Ferguson in the main event, Khamzat Chimaev will fight Kevin Holland in a catchweight (180) co-main event and Li Jingliang will fight Daniel Rodriguez in a catchweight (180) bout. | Order UFC 279: Diaz vs Ferguson
It’s been a difficult few years for Tony Ferguson – one of the all-time great talents to ever compete inside the Octagon.
Four fights since 2020, all losses. Even though it was against the toughest competition the UFC lightweight division has to offer in former champion Charles Oliveira, Justin Gaethje, Michael Chandler and Beneil Dariush, it’s not something fans are accustomed to seeing.
The former interim lightweight title holder once amassed 12 consecutive victories, setting a lightweight record until Hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov passed him in his last fight before retirement. That six-year stretch was something to behold, but, as of late, it seems like something’s been lost.
Keeping up with the always evolving talent can be difficult and no fault of his own. Just this year, UFC legends Donald Cerrone, Luke Rockhold and Joanna Jedrzejczyk retired after their losses, with Rockhold claiming he’s “too old” to compete with elite talent, despite putting on a Fight of the Night performance against Paulo Costa at UFC 278.
So, maybe you think Ferguson would be on the same path, especially after suffering his first KO defeat to Chandler. But a message from his wife helped him realize that it wasn’t age or time in the sport that was playing a role in these performances.
“My wife tells me, ‘When are you going to start training 100 percent,’” Ferguson said, “I haven’t trained 100 percent in years…I sparred for the first time in about five, six years. So, I’ve done a lot of things and taken myself out of my comfort zone. Which is easy for me, but a lot of other people, they don’t expect it. So, I saved [my best tricks] like a magician for a very long time, for the times that matter the most. And that’s now.”
Not only is now the right time to start getting back in the win column, but also to find the most success in a new challenge, unfamiliar as of late, that Ferguson is being presented on Saturday night. At UFC 279, Ferguson will be competing at 170 pounds for this first time in 11 years.
On The Ultimate Fighter 13, Ferguson fought and won the competition at welterweight, but once he was signed to the UFC, it seemed clear that he’d find the most success at lightweight. From then on, it was 155 pounds for all 19 UFC fights.
But after a talk with UFC President Dana White, moving up a weight class appeared to be the best option at this time in his career. Despite it being only four months since that knockout loss to Chandler, when offered UFC 279 opponent Li Jingliang, Ferguson took the opportunity straight away.
“It’s f****ing crazy competing back at this weight class 11 years later,” Ferguson said. “Time goes by fast. I can look at my kids and kind of say the same thing; they get big so f***ing fast. This sport is the exact same way. When it comes down to it, I’ve seen so many changes in this sport…being a part of all this is amazing.”
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“I don’t consider this [fight] a quick turnaround,” Ferguson said. “I feel really confident. I had a talk with [UFC president Dana White], told him my expectations of myself [and] followed through. I saw him at my buddy’s boxing event, and they could feel that I was pretty solid, so they gave me the opportunity at 170.”
Weight cutting is one of the most strategic and difficult parts of mixed martial arts to master. A bad weight cut can leave your body completely drained on fight night, lacking the energy to perform optimally. This time around, Ferguson doesn’t have any of those worries.
If you see Ferguson at the athlete hotel this week, you may notice a 7-Eleven slushy or soda in hand, a luxury that most fighters crave weeks in the buildup to the fight and splurge on as soon as they can after.
Along with the advantages of not needing to dissect every line of nutrition information on everything he eats, keeping weight on has allowed Ferguson to switch up his training and focus on more of his strength and conditioning.
“It’s about the time I put some size on and get some lifting in, which I did for the last couple months, and then made it functional,” Ferguson said.
“I think I’m faster. With my body weight composition, I’m a lot stronger, a lot faster. I don’t really have to worry much about the [mental part] of cutting weight. Being able to enjoy what I eat has definitely lifted my mood. When you’re in a good mood, you lose natural bodyweight faster than you are if you’re all sad and depressed.”
The product of these advantages will be put to the test September 10 against Li, a fast, hard-hitting welterweight coming off a TKO victory over Muslim Salikhov.
Though Ferguson has been critical of opponents in the past, there’s no disrespect from either side coming into this fight. Recognizing each other are both veterans of the sport and promotion, “El Cucuy” doesn’t feel he needs to hate Li to fight him.
The only drive for Ferguson is his desire to reassert himself as one of the scariest propositions in the UFC. And through his new outlook on his training and preparation for UFC 279, there’s no doubt in his mind that he’ll walk away with a win in the co-main event on Saturday night.
“I’m going to go out there and have my hand raised in victory,” Ferguson said. “I’ve been putting in the f***ing effort and the work, and I feel like I’m getting better every time. I’m putting the pieces together like a puzzle and every time I walk by the table, I’m taking another piece. You don’t have to sit down and finish the whole piece yet. This is fight week. But by the time Saturday comes around, that picture is going to be all put together.”