Tony Ferguson may be the third fight on the UFC 238 pay-per-view broadcast, but in his mind he’s the real main event as the defending lightweight champion.
The logic behind that statement requires some explanation after the rollercoaster ride he’s been on for the past 14 months.
Last April while holding the interim lightweight title, Ferguson was scheduled to face Khabib Nurmagomedov to crown an undisputed champion but a freak knee injury occurred just days before the fight as he was promoting the event. Nurmagomedov went onto claim the lightweight belt while Ferguson had to have surgery on his injured knee and he was subsequently stripped of his interim champion status.
Nurmagomedov moved onto defend the belt against Conor McGregor last October but then faced a nine-month suspension after he engaged in a post-fight brawl just seconds after his submission win. In Nurmagomedov’s absence, the UFC decided to crown another interim champion with featherweight king Max Holloway moving up to 155 pounds and Ferguson was offered the chance to face him.
UFC president Dana White later said Ferguson turned down the fight but in the midst of all this the former “Ultimate Fighter” winner saw his personal life become very public and the concern for his well-being trumped any potential matchup.
Ferguson claims he was absolutely prepared to take that fight but the extenuating circumstances outside the cage prevented him from competing and Dustin Poirier ultimately took the slot and won the interim title with a unanimous decision win against Holloway at UFC 236.
“I was ready for Max [Holloway],” Ferguson said ahead of his return on Saturday night. “I’ll be real with you, I was really ready for him. I was coached to say no, obviously there were a lot of things going on but I was ready. I’ve been training since January and I was ready and everything.”
It would have been a somewhat awkward position for Ferguson even if the fight happened considering the bizarre way his last interim title reign ended.
With Poirier now scheduled to face the undefeated Russian in September in a title unification bout, Ferguson is left as the odd man out as he prepares to take on Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone this weekend in Chicago.
Despite the fight being billed as a non-title affair, Ferguson believes this is the real headliner for UFC 238 and it gives him another opportunity to prove he’s the true champion of the lightweight division.
“I’m an active lightweight champ. I’m still the f—king champ. I didn’t lose my belt,” Ferguson said. “I still have it. I just walked into my room and it’s standing here right in f—king front of me. It’s nice and shiny.
“Chicago’s lucky that we came out here to save this card. Now you’ve got ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone and Tony Ferguson and I hate to talk about myself in the third person but here’s the fourth one, we’re going to f—king run this s—t.”
For all the volatility surrounding his career, Ferguson is approaching his upcoming fight against Cerrone as a way to wipe the slate clean.
A huge part of hitting the reset button comes down to finding new representation after Ferguson previously shared the same management team as rival Conor McGregor. That never sat well with Ferguson as he was constantly pursuing a fight against the former two-division champion.
Now with a new team on his side looking out for his best interests, Ferguson is putting the past in the past and just looking forward to the future.
“I got different management. They’re the ones that are handling all the good stuff and they’re making sure that the numbers fit right and I’m getting treated right,” Ferguson said. “I have no complaints since I made the change over.
“It’s a new start and it’s fresh. I got the blades sharpened up and I’m still wearing my shades.”
As far as facing Cerrone this weekend, Ferguson was appreciative that the former title contender stepped up to the plate to offer him a challenge when he believes so many others avoided him.
That said, Ferguson hasn’t spent much time watching Cerrone’s latest performances where he’s picked up three wins in a row including back-to-back victories at lightweight over Al Iaquinta and Aleaxnder Hernandez.
“Donald was the only one to have enough gumption to sign the dotted line,” Ferguson said. “I always want to fight someone who is going to be game out there. So he’s next in line so that’s how I see it fits.
“I haven’t really paid attention too much [to Cerrone’s recent wins]. I think the same thing with Anthony Pettis, when these guys are changing weights, they’re not sure about what they’re f--king wanting. They’re not sure about what’s going on in their life.”
When it comes to what’s next assuming he’s able to notch his 12th win in a row this weekend, Ferguson isn’t losing any sleep about potential matchups against Nurmagomedov, McGregor, Poirier or anybody else.
He just wants to say genuine to himself and block out everything else until it’s time to fight.
“We got Tiramisu (Khabib Nurmagomedov) and McNuggets (Conor McGregor) both lost their sauce. They don’t know what the f—k is going on,” Ferguson said. “Even Dustin Poirier said Tony is the real champ and then look what happens. You dangle a little bit of change in front of somebody and what do they do? They change right up like a chameleon. Like that “Rock Superstar” — B-Real had it best. People try to change up no matter what the f—k is going on or who comes up.
“I’m staying the same f—king dude. I’m consistent. When I’m writing my notes on my mirror and I’m writing my record up there, I had to look on Wikipedia to see how many fights I had. That’s how focused I was with everything. I completely lost track of what the numbers were. I started forgetting about the s—t that didn’t matter and started to worry about the things that did matter and the things that I can control, which is my breathing and my heart rate.”