As the song goes, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day and, in a way, it is a new life. And Tony Ferguson is feeling good.
“I feel amazing, man. I didn’t feel like waiting all the way until the end of March, April, May,” Ferguson said. “I took matters into my own hands. I saw the company needed somebody to finish strong at the end of the year and here I am.”
Ferguson is in Las Vegas, looking to cap a tumultuous year with a signature victory against submission specialist Charles Oliveira in the UFC co-main event Saturday at the UFC APEX.
The showdown is a strong one, featuring two accomplished assassins in the 155-pound division.
Ferguson (26-4) has gone 15-2 with 11 finishes in his nine-plus years in the UFC, which officially began with him winning Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Along the way, the 36-year-old Oxnard native has picked up 11 fight bonuses.
His 31-year-old Brazilian opponent, meanwhile, has a UFC record 14 victories via submission and is tied for the most finishes at 16. Since debuting in the UFC in 2010, Oliveira has gone 17-8 with 16 fight bonuses.
Needless to say, as Oliveira (29-8, 1 NC) has put away seven consecutive opponents – five via submission and two by knockout – to elevate into the division’s upper echelon, this has been a fight many fans and the UFC have been anticipating.
“I believe they’ve tried to make this fight a couple times, which is pretty cool. He’s a game opponent, he’s very dangerous,” said Ferguson, sporting a new look for this camp with a shaved head. “But the kid is taking his style out of mine. He wears his sunglasses and he does his thing. I get it. He’s the next generation, but I’m still here. I’m not even trying to be leaving here.”
Many questions have been awaiting answers after Ferguson’s 2020 did not go as planned.
The 36-year-old “El Cucuy” – aka “The Boogeyman” – lost an interim title fight to Justin Gaethje via fifth-round TKO at UFC 249 in May. This was after a long-awaited fight with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov on April 18 was called off and, after Gaethje stepped in on short notice, their fight was shockingly postponed April 9.
Both fight cancellations were due to the coronavirus spread. Rescheduling the Gaethje bout in May came with pressure from UFC President Dana White – and according to Ferguson, from President Donald Trump – to put on a compelling fight card during the pandemic.
Ferguson is proud to say he held up his end, even though in the end, he also proved he’s human.
“The fight with Gaethje and stuff, it was hard to be able to battle against your fellow countryman, especially when we’re in that kind of time when we’re supposed to come together,” Ferguson said. “Nobody’s going to understand my approach to that fight. I can talk till I’m blue in the face and I’m not going to. It was a very good event we had and we did what we needed to do.
“The messages were relayed from Trump to Dana White and me: ‘You in, kid?’ And I did it. I proved over and over and over again that I’m reliable. I’m a company man.”
The loss to Gaethje was Ferguson’s first in eight years and 12 fights and the first time he had been knocked out in 29 professional fights.
Not only did Ferguson lose, he lost his title shot against longtime nemesis Nurmagomedov, the carrot on the stick to his horse. Five times, the two have been scheduled to meet only to have each fight fall through due to injuries or a bad Nurmagomedov weight cut.
Then in October, Ferguson watched Nurmagomedov retire undefeated after dismantling Gaethje in two rounds at UFC 254.
Now Ferguson, a one-man Cuisinart willing to shed blood in order to deliver his own brand of violence via punches, elbows, knees, kicks and snapdown takedowns, turns his attention to Oliveira.
Ferguson’s wrestling and grappling acumen and penchant from attacking from his guard promise to be a fascinating style matchup with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace.
“He’s game, he’s ready, he’s hungry. He wants my spot in this division but he’s not gonna get it. I’m no gatekeeper, kid. I’m here. I’m still a title contender,” Ferguson said. “For 12 fights in a row, for eight years in a row, nobody’s seen me lose. My one loss and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, it was your weight cut. Oh, it’s this. Oh, it’s that.’ (Screw) that, man. Feels like ‘8 Mile.’
“Look, I’m the most naked I’ve ever … been and everybody else can take notes. That’s from casuals to hardcores to the way I represent myself and to everything. I stopped caring about people jocking my style and I started worrying about what’s really important, and that’s my family, faith and my friends.”