LAS VEGAS – Tony Ferguson believes he is a big part of the UFC’s resumption of operations as soon as it did in 2020, and he suspects that this quick return has benefited everyone – except him.
Ferguson (25-4) will face Charles Oliveira (29-8) at UFC 256 on Saturday, in his first appearance since Justin Gaethje on May 9 in five rounds. The UFC 249 event marked the end of an eight-week stretch during which the UFC canceled five events due to the pandemic, and it came while the NBA, NFL, MLB and NCAA delayed operations.
Ferguson was supposed to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed lightweight championship at UFC 249, but the pandemic canceled the scheduled April date. Instead of waiting for the UFC to rebook this lucrative title fight, Ferguson agreed to a new opponent and location. Then another new place came when the UFC’s backup plan failed. Then there was a new date on which these plans changed again.
In the middle of it all, Ferguson decided to cut weight for an event that had already been postponed. He said it was because he was committed and wanted to give the world something to follow. It was a move that many in the MMA world have questioned and even derided. He eventually suffered the loss and snapped a 12-fight winning streak. Gaethje then lost on October 24th in the second round at Nurmagomedov for the undisputed title.
What did Ferguson make of the whole experience? When he fights Oliveira on Saturday, Ferguson says he’s fighting 100% for himself.
“I pointed out directly, directly, and directly that I would never feel that way again for anyone else,” Ferguson told ESPN. “As toxic as everyone is, f — ’em.
“You save the world, you think you get a medal? No. You don’t get an s —. You hear, ‘You didn’t do it well enough. You didn’t do it great. You got hit. You never get the same ‘What I am saying is: “You’re welcome, everyone. You’re welcome “Because it took this guy to get things going again.”
Well, maybe a “me versus the world” mentality is exactly what Ferguson needs. Because he’s right, the MMA world doesn’t believe he fought well in his previous performance, and many have questions if he’ll ever be the same.
Nurmagomedov said Ferguson was done. “If you suffer such damage, you will never be the same,” he said. “Never. Even if you’re Tony Ferguson.” UFC commentator Jon Anik asked during the fight, “How many shots can a human take?” ESPN analyst and retired UFC veteran Chael Sonnen didn’t go as far as to demand Ferguson’s resignation after the fight, but he did admit that it should be on the table as the next step.
Ferguson has just lost its first loss in eight years but will turn 37 in February. The amount of damage he sustained seven months ago, as well as major knee surgery in 2018, is cause for concern. Despite winning twelve fights in a row between 2013 and 2020, he never fought for an undisputed championship, despite having planned to do so several times.
Ferguson says he no longer cares about the elusive title shot. He basically says the rug has been pulled from under him too many times when it comes to championship opportunities, so he’s done chasing them.
Whether or not that’s true, the reality is that Saturday is likely a must-see for Ferguson if he’s ever looking to battle for the undisputed title. He’s right as the UFC isn’t handing out medals for headlining the first pay-per-view event of a pandemic. No medal – and no title shot either.
The clock is ticking for this, and in a crowded division where champion Nurmagomedov says he’s retired but still has the belt in hand – times are uncertain and title shots will be paramount. For the first time in years there are serious doubts as to whether Ferguson can prove himself to be the best lightweight in the UFC.
If Ferguson’s fight at UFC 249 was supposed to save the sports world, then his fight at UFC 256 should save his career.