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Fightweets: Is Tony Ferguson cringeworthy, or a misunderstood genius?

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Tony Ferguson marches to the beat of his own drum.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

This is the final weekend of a rare run without a major fight card. The schedule swings back into full gear with UFC 223 next weekend. This week, though, MMA still managed to act just nutty enough to get our heads back into the game. So without further ado, let’s get right into it.

The world according to Tony

@Aaronjamesgee: Who holds the title for king of cringe? Ferguson, Covington or Rockhold? They having been battling for the cringe top spot for years and I think Ferguson after these media rounds for 223 might just take the cringe belt home with him.

Imagine there was a fighter who stepped up to every challenge that was thrown his way. Imagine he had an exciting, forward-moving style, and a reputation for putting on crowd-pleasing fights. Imagine he gave long-winded, over-the-river-and-through-the-woods answers to questions which you later had to deconstruct in order to figure out what they actually just said. And in doing so, from time to time you found they just said something absolutely brilliant.

I basically just described Nick Diaz. I also basically just described Tony Ferguson. But Diaz is beloved, while the general consensus on Ferguson is that he’s “cringe”. What gives?

A big part of it, obviously, is that Diaz always had that anti-authority thing going on, in addition to all the other factors fans love about him. The closest Ferguson has come to rebelling was when the UFC tried to screw him out of his show money when the UFC 209 fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov fell out. Beyond that, he just puts his head down, goes to work, does whatever the UFC asks of him.

Maybe if Ferguson simply punctuated his statements with a double flip of his middle fingers, his social media numbers would shoot up overnight. But Ferguson’s as real as it gets. Real enough to turn down the Angels when they asked him to throw out the first pitch, because his team is the Dodgers. Real enough to not care about whether he has Nurmagomedov’s number of followers, much less Conor McGregor.

Admittedly, some of his answers at press conferences are tough to follow, and a day of having to transcribe and then write up his interview at his media day in LA on Thursday had me wanting a good, stiff drink afterwards. But Ferguson has stuck to his own path. It’s the long and winding path, but it’s gotten him this far. And in this game, for every Ronda Rousey who burns bright and flames out fast, there’s an Anderson Silva, who wasn’t fully appreciated until he was near the tail end of a remarkable run. Maybe a couple more wins at the highest level will get Ferguson over the hump.

Oh, as for your question: Colby Covington wins this hands down. He’s taking his playbook from Chael Sonnen. But Sonnen always had a charm underneath his provocations, a wink that says he’s full of it and you know he’s full of it and he knows you know he’s full of it. And when you caught Sonnen in the right mood, he could, and can still, hit you with some of the most intelligent insight on the sport you could ask for. Covington just bludgeons everyone without the underlying wit.

Ronda, Ronda, Ronda

@The3rdCory: Will Ronda still be wrestling for WWE come Summerslam?

So, I’ll give Ronda this much: She certainly made our last slow week for the foreseeable future more interesting than we would have anticipated. I mean, it was interesting in the way a train lighting on fire and then derailing over the edge of a cliff is interesting, but it certainly wasn’t boring.

Maybe Ronda was expecting an easy go of things on ESPN on Tuesday, since ESPN and Ellen have been her safe spaces since she cut out the rest of the media a few years back. But the entire reason she was on ESPN in the first place is that her previous fame as an athlete is what makes her move to pro wrestling newsworthy in the first place. Imagine if Bill Buckner, after the 1986 World Series, disappeared, resurfaced to join the then-WWF for WrestleMania 3, and then went on ESPN and expected no baseball talk. Pretty ridiculous, right?

Credit where it’s due: Rousey did finally open up somewhat about her departure from MMA in a well-conducted interview which went live after the initial onslaught of brushback passed. But Rousey brought the backlash on herself, and if she had simply talked about her losses like any other athlete who has lost a sporting event has talked about it — or to bring it to the MMA level, the way McGregor handled his loss to Nate Diaz — then it never would have gotten to this point in the first place.

Oh wait, I didn’t answer your question. Let’s put it this way: Much like White, WWE chief Vince McMahon is your best friend until he isn’t. He’s twice over the course of his career doubled crossed his champions on the finishes to matches, taking their titles against the script: Wendi Richter in 1985 and Bret Hart in 1997. He literally pulled down his pants on national television and had his most loyal employee, Jim Ross, kiss his backside. There’s no limit to how bad McMahon can make you look if his whim strikes.

If Ronda is a hit at WrestleMania and shows a real aptitude for pro wrestling, Vince will ride with her for the long haul. If the crowd rejects her — in the “go away” way, not in the “I’ll pay money to boo you” way — or if her work isn’t up to par, McMahon will ditch her faster than you can say “World Bodybuilding Federation”.

Title shot for Shogun Rua?

@chinmaybhogle: Does Shogun, incredibly get a title shot with a win over Volkan? I’m kind of rooting for him, and at the same time, kind of worried for him.

I get where you’re coming from, here. Shogun Rua is on a three-fight win streak, which has lit a flicker of a fire in the souls of those who aren’t ready to completely to let go of the fact that time is slipping away from even the longest-lasting PRIDE alums. But then you look at those three fights and understand that he hasn’t exactly defeated a murderer’s row to get into this position. And you see a hungry young buck in Volkan Oezdemir, who rolled over everyone in his path to get a title shot, then had his moments against Daniel Cormier before losing at UFC 220.

Logic seems to dictate that Shogun’s late-career joyride comes to an end at UFC Chile on May 19. But look at it this way: A win over Oezdemir, as improbable as it seems on paper, would go further to validate his status for a title shot than just about anything at this point. It could go badly. It could pay off. Shogun wouldn’t have it any other way, and that’s good enough for me.

Welterweight scramble

@TheFightGeekMMA: Does winner of Usman & Ponz fight winner of Till/Wonderboy?

That sounds like a great idea on paper. Whether it works out, in reality, is another matter altogether.

Let’s just come flat out and say it: Kamaru Usman is one of the most-ducked fighters in the UFC. The dude’s won seven fights in a row, yet his highest-profile opponent has been Emil Meek. When Usman goes looking for a fight, the rest of the welterweight division suddenly decides they need to go walk their dog that day, or get their taxes done, or anything but accept a fight.

Usman’s also damn near criminally underpromoted. He’s on a seven-fight win streak, but he’s only been on one PPV card (UFC 210), and even that was on the FS1 prelims. His boss, Dana White, went and took a giant dump on Usman’s seventh straight win, then probably turned right back around and continued wondering why none of the current generation of up-and-comers are getting over with the audience like Chuck Liddell or Matt Hughes.

Ponzinibbio, meanwhile, will have his 11th UFC fight when he meets Usman at UFC Chile. He’s won six in a row and eight of nine, but he’s yet to get a crack at a PPV card.

So you’d like to think the winner of this fight, who will only build on his momentum, will get a big fight next. But if you’re Darren Till, and you defeat Stephen Thompson, then you’ve punched your ticket into the top tier in the division. If you’re Thompson, and you’ve fended off Till, then you’ve rebounded from your loss to Tyron Woodley with wins over Jorge Masvidal and Till, a pair of fighters ranked lower than you who were trying to use you as a gatekeeper, so why would you turn around and do that a third time?

It’s a tough spot. I can understand why the Wonderboy-Till winner would not want the Usman-Ponzi winner. I can also empathize with the latter fighters’ frustrations. It will never be a perfect system. Some will get the pampered Rousey treatment. Some will have to do things the hard way. More often than not, talent wins out in the end.


@41st_side_718: Do any of you guys realize you owe Bethe Correia an apology and that she was right when people incorrectly crucified her for (not) “making fun of Ronda’s dad’s suicide”?