There has been no shortage of copy written about the unique style of Tony Ferguson over the last couple years as his profile has risen higher and higher.
“I got something different that these people haven’t seen,” he said. “I’m Midwest tough, West coast savvy. The style goes with the attitude. It’s far out, it’s cool and shiny, and we improvise.”
But “El Cucuy” hasn’t created a character, hasn’t changed who he is to get more attention. He’s always marched to the beat of his own drum. For proof, go back to the night he met his wife Cristina in 2009.
Earlier that evening, Ferguson lost his first professional fight to Karen Darabedyan in Montebello, California. It was a painful defeat, both for his record and his leg, but that didn’t deter him.
“He (Darabedyan) got me in a heel hook and he popped my tendons but I didn’t give up,” Ferguson, who lost a decision, told me in 2011. “So I met her afterward and we danced, and it was funny because I totally forgot about my leg being broke. (Laughs) I don’t know, she turned my world upside down, it’s kinda crazy.”
Ferguson, who went on to marry Cristina and have a son, Armand, with her, did some world-turning of his own in the subsequent decade, first by winning The Ultimate Fighter in 2011, then by becoming one of the best lightweights on the planet.
That’s the Cliff Notes version of Ferguson’s rise to the point where he’s headlining UFC 249 on Saturday against Justin Gaethje for the interim UFC lightweight crown. The detailed version has been a rollercoaster ride, both in and out of the Octagon.
The injuries. The five cancellations of a bout with 155-pound champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The workout videos that defy description. But mainly, and most importantly, what has captivated fans are the fights, mini-action films complete with blood, grit, plots and sub-plots, all squeezed into 25 or 15 minutes or less. That’s what’s made the 36-year-old who he is today, and why he’s still standing.
“The cool thing about the highs and lows is I used to drive one (a Hi-Lo),” Ferguson said. “It goes up, it goes down, but as long as you’ve got fuel, you can power that bitch. Your attitude is everything.”
If there’s a more Tony Ferguson quote than that, bring it on. Comments like that show not only his approach to the universe but keeps us paying attention and watching. Who else would have the legion of UFC fans checking social media on a fight-less Friday last month, waiting to see if Ferguson would make weight on the date he was supposed to fight Nurmagomedov, then Gaethje?
He made it. 155 pounds. On April 17. CSO as he would say…Champ S**t Only.
“I didn't think it was that impressive at all,” said Ferguson. “When you’re a wrestler, you make weight every weekend. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Would you want to fight this guy?
“They sign on the dotted line, they know what they’re getting themselves into,” he said.
Actually, they don’t. Ferguson opponents know the fight is going to be fast paced, it’s likely to go all around the Octagon, and that they’re going to be in a battle. What they don’t know is what Ferguson will do over the course of the bout. Gaethje is well aware of what’s ahead of him in terms of having to dig deep and be prepared for anything. But what anything is comprised of is anybody’s guess. Just know that he may be a different guy than he was five years ago and even last June when he stopped Donald Cerrone in two rounds.
“I’m a much better fighter than I was five years ago,” he said. “Technique, breathing, patience, all of the above.”
Patience? Not exactly a virtue associated with “El Cucuy,” but then again, his definition of the word may vary from everybody else’s. And that’s okay, because being one of a kind brings the excitement on fight night.
Tony Ferguson, main eventing the first major sporting event since March, is one of a kind and the perfect ambassador for sports’ return.
“Right now, there is no Olympics,” he said. “There is no Wimbledon. There is no soccer, hockey. There is no baseball. This is what we bring to the table, and we’re gonna go out there and do our best and we’re gonna keep sports alive. That’s what we’re gonna mother f***ing do."
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