Eddie Bravo is one of the most respected voices in the world of jiu-jitsu, but even he had to admit that motivating a faltering fighter in a UFC title bout was a bridge too far for him.
As part of Tony Ferguson’s team for his interim lightweight championship fight against Justin Gaethje at UFC 249, Bravo was brought in for his grappling expertise and close relationship with Ferguson. What he didn’t expect was that he would have to try to talk “El Cucuy” back into the fight after it became apparent that Gaethje was in control heading into the final round.
As experienced as he is with working with some of MMA’s best, mid-fight coaching was another world for Bravo.
“I have never been a head MMA coach ever in my life,” Bravo said on a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience. “Never wanted to be. Never wanted to be and even to this day, that’s on me, never been. I’m not Trevor Wittman, that guy’s amazing. I’m not a Greg Jackson, Duke Roufus. That’s a whole ‘nother level. That’s a guy that should be talking to the fighter that’s sitting down.
“I’m the wide receiver coach. I’m the guy that just throws in s*it on the side. Especially in a standup fight, I shouldn’t have been mic’d, because I knew this was gonna be a standup fight. If the fight was gonna go to the ground, if it was the Khabib (Nurmagomedov) fight, yeah, maybe there’s gonna be a lot of ground work, maybe it makes sense for television to mic me. But when they were mic’ing me up, I’m like, I’m just there for emotional support because it’s gonna be a standup war.”
Bravo said that it was Ferguson’s plan to outbox Gaethje, a risky strategy given Gaethje’s history of highlight-reel knockouts and all-out standup wars. Even if they wanted to change strategy in the middle of the championship bout, Bravo pointed out that Ferguson has never used wrestling to impose his will on his opponents and that he prefers to gain advantageous positions on the ground through scrambles, not takedowns.
Knowing this, Bravo was insistent that he not be employed to talk to Ferguson between rounds. Only one coach was allowed in the cage at a time due to COVID-19 restrictions and through the first three rounds it was either muay Thai coach Billy Fonua or boxing coach Rashad Holloway who provided consultation to Ferguson.
“One of the weirdest things was in between the first round and second round, they only allowed one coach in and they said, ‘Who’s it gonna be?’ And I was the first one to say, ‘Not me,’” Bravo said. “I’m not the MMA head coach, it’s gotta be the striking coach that goes in there. Everybody agreed, for sure.
“It’s always gotta be the striking coach, the head coach, the guy that talks to him. I’m just the guy that offers suggestions. I never wanted to be [the head coach], never tried to be.”
As far as Bravo recalls, there was no though to throwing in the towel for Ferguson. In the end, after taking a massive amount of punishment, the bout was stopped in the fifth round with less than 90 seconds remaining and Gaethje walked out with a TKO victory.
Gaethje’s performance was a dominant one, but Bravo thought it was competitive through the first two rounds. It wasn’t until he was thrust into the cage after round four that he saw just how badly the fight was going for Ferguson.
“The first round, in my eyes, at the event, I thought, ‘Okay, that could have went either way,’” Bravo said. “Second round, at the very end, with two seconds left, he clips Justin. So after two rounds I’m thinking, ‘Okay, now it’s gonna start to turn around.’ So at that point, after the second round, he knocked him down. If he would have had 30 seconds, who knows what would happen, but at that point it’s the third round. I’m like, ‘Okay, maybe Tony’s gonna turn it around like he always does.’ So at that point, we weren’t thinking we gotta take him down or anything like that.
“But after that fourth round, it was looking like, ‘Oh, s*it.’ And right when the bell rung after the fourth round, Rashad turns around like, ‘Eddie, get in there.’ I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to walk in there. So I walked in there going, ‘What the f*ck? I’m not an MMA head coach.’ This is the fourth round, he’s hurt, and plus, my car got broken into last week, they stole my glasses. I need my glasses, I’m pretty blind. So I didn’t realize how cut up he was until I walked up to him. Okay, I’m supposed to give him advice, this wide receiver coach. It was a mistake for me to go in there. It was a mistake.”
Impaired vision wasn’t the only issue Bravo was having. He was also thrown off by the empty arena show and the lack of preparation when it came to possibly implementing grappling techniques if necessary. He told Ferguson to attempt an Imanari roll, though he knew it would be ineffective late in the fight.
All in all, Bravo admitted he was overwhelmed by the experience.
“I’m in there going, at this point, he’s hurt, he’s cut up, a lot of things are swirling through my head, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God. What the hell? What is the best advice here? I need help here.’ I froze,” Bravo said. “And it’s so quiet, it’s so quiet. Usually you’re like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to take this motherf*cker down!’ But it’s so quiet, it’s so g*ddamn quiet that everyone’s talking lower. It was just so weird.”
Watch Bravo’s clip from The Joe Rogan Experience below: