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Worst card ever? UFC 177 main-card competitors beg to differ

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Esther Lin

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Tony Ferguson has heard all the hate directed UFC 177's way.

The Ultimate Fighter 13 winner can recite all the complaints, both about the lack of star power on the card in general, and in specific, the fact his lightweight showdown with Danny Castillo has been elevated to co-main event status.

And the Oxnard, Calif.-based fighter simply plans on using it all as fuel for his fire.

"It was cool, man," said Ferguson (15-3), who is looking for his ninth win in his past 10 fights. "I like to hear the s-- talk. I can speak for half of the fighters, probably most of the card, that when you hear s-- like that, it amps you up. You're like, ‘man what are you talking about? We're not bulls-- fighters. You go back to the drawing board, and we're the new evolution of MMA fighter. We're ready. We're ready to replace the older generation."

While Ferguson is revved for his bout with Castillo, there also seemed a collective chip on the fighters' shoulders at Thursday's UFC 177 media day. Originally, Saturday night's card at Sleep Train Arena was slated to be a two-title-bout affair, with the T.J. Dillashaw-Renan Barao rematch topping the bill, and the Demetrious Johnson-Chris Cariaso flyweight title fight in the co-main position.

But Johnson vs. Cariaso was shifted over to UFC 178 on Sept. 27 after the card's main event, Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, was postponed due to Jones' knee injury. That left a gaping hole in the card, and pushed Ferguson vs. Castillo, which was originally slated for the canceled UFC 176, into the co-main spot.

Castillo is taking the hate a bit more personally the Ferguson. For his part, Castillo, a Team Alpha Male fighter, has been with Zuffa since hooking on with the WEC in 2008. With three wins in his past four fights, it's now or never for the 35-year-old Castillo. The way he looks at it, he's earned this spot.

"In the beginning it's hard to deal with," Castillo said. "Because you're the person that appreciates yourself the most. I know how hard I work and I know I deserve this opportunity. I've taken more than five fights on short notice. I've fought 3 or 4 guys who came in overweight. Six pounds one time, you know? I feel like I deserve this opportunity. I'm very grateful for this opportunity, Dana White, Joe Silva, for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to repaying them."

Another veteran of the sport, Shayna Baszler, has been around long enough to know not to judge a card before it happens.

"I'm not too concerned about people's opinion of the card," Baszler said. "As a longtime fan of fighting, sometimes the card you think aren't going to be exciting are the best cards. And people that are fans know that."

The women's MMA pioneer makes her long-anticipated, official UFC debut on Saturday night against Bethe Correia in a bout with legit heat between the two. Baszler says she going to do what she can to get people interested in her fight, rather than worry about the rest.

"I just need to do my part and sell my fight," Baszler said. "I've had a lot of people say the only reason they want to watch this card is because of my fight. So I'm not in the place of Ronda [Rousey] just yet, but I do my part to sell my fight. I'm going to do my job. If you look through my record. I have no problem making my fights exciting."

That also goes for the least-known fighter on the main card. Legacy FC featherweight champ Damon Jackson (9-0), who beat Leonard Garcia last month for his biggest career win, is fighting Yancy Medeiros (9-2) at lightweight on short notice.

The notice was so short that the UFC didn't even have an oversized name placard for Jackson as the other nine main card fighters had on Thursday. While media buzzed around, getting quotes from other fighters, Jackson was sitting alone in a chair when this reporter approached him.

The way Jackson sees it, even if no one knows his name now, he has the opportunity to make people remember him. All nine of the Texan's victories have been finishes.

"I want to put the show on," Jackson said. "I want to start the night off right, I'm the first fight on the pay-per-view main card. I want to start the night off right and really put on a show. So hopefully that will turn it right around, and after the fight the people will be talking about me and they'll know my name."

Ramsey Nijem, meanwhile, sees things more philosophically. Even the biggest of drawing cards had to start somewhere, after all.

"A lot of people have been complaining about the depth of the card and this and that and the lack of star power, but, what is a star in the sport?" asked Nijem, who meets Carlos Diego Ferriera in a lightweight bout. "At some point, everyone has to be a humble contender, everyone has to be an unknown fighter on prelims. Between me and Tony and Danny we have all been in the UFC for years. We've been fighting on cards and big fights on FOX Sports 1 and FX and Spike."

Ultimately, Nijem echoed what was on the minds of several fighters.

"People b--- and moan and say I don't know anybody on this card, then they watch it and after they're like that's the coolest card I've ever seen. I don't know, you have to accept it and like go out and, true fight fans are going to watch and they always will and hopefully this is my time to put my best foot forward."