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Tony Ferguson explains health insurance comments at UFC 274 fight week: ‘There’s a lot of underlying things that people don’t see’

Tony Ferguson said his call for health insurance at UFC 274’s pre-fight press conference was not his first such request to his promoter.

The ex-interim lightweight champion said he broached the issue because it fell by the wayside in a previous UFC meeting. It also led to an unexpected demand when a short-notice fight with Islam Makhachev at UFC 272 instead became a fight with Chandler at UFC 274.

“During that fight week [at UFC 274], I had a lot to say, because during the last year-and-a-half when I was off, I was down to take that Mackhachev fight, and the way that they had presented that was that I didn’t want the fight, or however they wanted to present it,” Ferguson said Monday on The MMA Hour. “But it got brought up in the meeting too, that we’ll look into [health] insurance, because I brought it up.

“I said, obviously, I want insurance. The numbers and everything made sense to me, and they said, ‘OK, we’ll get your premiums together, and we’ll see how much it cost,’ and so on and so forth for the next couple years. So I had previously said that to them, and they had agreed that, ‘We’ll look at it.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s cool.’

“Well, I go a couple months later, I was ready to fight Michael Chandler in, I think it was January or February or something like that, and he wasn’t ready; his leg still probably wasn’t good. But when I got the contract for Chandler, there came a side note which said that they were going to extend my contract, and I was like, ‘For what?’ And they do a lot of these things, and so I questioned it. A closed mouth don’t get fed.”

The UFC didn’t immediately respond to request for comment on Ferguson’s statement.

During a fiery media day appearance in support of UFC 274, Ferguson made his displeasure very evident when he unloaded on White and the UFC, comparing the executive to a drug dealer for not allowing fighters to pursue bigger paydays in boxing. Ferguson said he should have sued the promotion for stripping him of the interim lightweight belt when he was injured in a freak accident while on set with UFC broadcast partner FOX. He promised to “kick this Dana White boy’s ass” with a win over Chandler at UFC 274.

Part of the feelings Ferguson expressed at the media day stemmed from the way one UFC executive treated him when confronted about the contract extension.

“When I questioned it, I questioned [UFC COO] Hunter [Campbell], and what he said was, ‘Oh s***, I don’t remember signing that,’” Ferguson said. “And I was like, ‘Excuse me?’ I was like, ‘Yo, yo, yo, I’ve been ready to fight,’ and they wanted to extend my contract if we fought for it, and they ended up taking it away, because they sign documents that they don’t read, and that really pissed me off.

“I was like, ‘You’re s****** me. You guys don’t even remember signing a document to have me stripped, when all I’ve been is for the company and you had Conor [McGregor] being inactive and he was going to retire and you guys stripped me for this?’ I was really mad. I don’t want to say too much; I try to keep everything really good. But when [UFC President] Dana [White] said, ‘Any man that wears sunglasses inside deserves to have that happen to him,’ and now you have [UFC whiskey sponsor] Howler Head sunglasses — I’m looking at that logo and I’m like, ‘What the f***? Dana didn’t wear sunglasses, and this is his company?’

“So it was just a lot of bad things that I’ve always felt is underlying, and I let it go. I let it out. I was pissed, and I should be. I’ve always done things for the company. I’ve always showed up. I’m not saying the only one, but just some of the things I’ve said, people haven’t taken me serious, because I’m just a messenger. At the beginning of the day, it’s not the first thing on my mind, but when I have to look after my family and I have to look after my well-being — they’re not, one, paying insurance, that’s a whole other story, and two, they’re not paying my bills.

“I show up to fight, and we’re [independent] contractors out there, which is crazy. I’m not trying to talk about unions and stuff; I don’t understand them too much. But I know what I fight for, and I fight for myself. I wasn’t talking for everybody in there. I was talking for my family and myself. I have two kids, my wife wants to have another one.

“During that first week, it was intense. I talked to my wife, and she was like, ‘What happened, you used to smile a lot,’ and I started thinking, ‘You know what? You’re right.’ So during the week, when I said that, I said my piece, and the Dana White privilege thing, it wasn’t funny, because I’ve been through it. I’ve gone through it all. It’s not [Michael Chandler’s] fault. But the company sometimes is weird, and there’s a lot of underlying things that people don’t see. They take for granted for what the UFC presents.”

Ferguson said while the incident “kind of pissed me off,” he stressed that both behind the scenes and in public, he has tried to temper his demands with the UFC’s business interests. He said he has no ill will toward UFC executives.

“They’re alright, they’ve got to look out for the bottom line,” Ferguson said. “But I have to look out for mine, and I hadn’t done that for a long time.”

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