Ahead of his return at UFC 238, lightweight contender Tony Ferguson addressed his issues with Ali Abdelaziz and promotion president Dana White.
Chicago, IL — Tony Ferguson has not lost a fight since 2012. He’s held interim gold, won against Kevin Lee at UFC 216, only to be stripped of the title. He’s also gone through personal ups and downs, a situation he touched on at Wednesday’s UFC 238 open workouts in Chicago.
Through it all, he told media outlets including Cageside Press, he hasn’t lost the spirit or will to fight. “It’s pretty cool, man. I feel like being a kid again, man. It’s like finding a toy inside a cracker jack box, man. I’m here to play some ball,” he said of coming back to a crowd that was cheering his name even at the workouts.
Despite all the ups and downs, never did he ever consider his career in fighting to not be worth it. “Not even one time did it cross my mind,” Ferguson said. “Since Ultimate Fighter. Since 2011, even before then. Since I had my first loss. The first time I lost, I met my wife. I had good, bad things happen. You have to look at the good side of things. My faith has kept me so strong. You have no idea, man. I thank god every day, I thank my family for being there. It’s faith, family, friends.”
He even took time to thank the reporters in attendance. “I want to say thank you to the media, I know I’ve been an asshole back in the day, I’m still an asshole,” he quipped.
Opposite him at UFC 238 will be a living legend of the sport, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. Ferguson isn’t phased by his opponent’s stature in MMA, though he recognizes the danger Cowboy poses. “Literally this is another fight. Cowboy’s inside, he’s waiting, I know he’s trying to get there, inside his own head,” explained Ferguson. “But he hasn’t said anything, only his people that are around him have. A dangerous man is somebody that don’t say sh*t. So he’s a dangerous guy, but once you get locked inside the octagon with me, it’s game over for them.”
In recent months, Ferguson had his personal life blow up, when reports of erratic behavior emerged in the press. His wife filed a restraining order. Questions about his mental health swirled. Eventually, that order expired, and no further motions or orders were pursued. After reportedly turning down a fight with Max Holloway, Ferguson was booked into the Cerrone fight.
Asked about how it was to have such a private matter air in public, Ferguson pointed out that “I was inside the Ultimate Fighter house when I had hundreds of cameras on me. I had like zero f*cking privacy already.” However, one thing did get to him. “I think more than anything else, I feel for my wife, that she had to go through [that] — so f*ck TMZ, so f*ck them, I don’t have anything nice to say to them.” The rest of the media, he was more appreciative of Wednesday. “But you guys have always kept it 100, you guys have always kept it real, and I want to say you guys have watched me grow literally, for a couple years, probably like nine solid years, ten years. Like I said I tip my hat to you guys for keeping it real, keeping it G, and making sure that you guys always look out for me.”
There’s one figure Ferguson doesn’t have any love for, however. Manager Ali Abdelaziz, who counts Ferguson’s rival Khabib Nurmagomedov among his clients. The Dominance MMA founder is a controversial figure in MMA, with many questioning his place in the sport. Tony Ferguson summed him up simpy as “a twitter warrior. I have GIF wars, if he wants to go GIF wars, I’ll destroy him all day.”
The two have jawed on social media, and it’s clear there’s no love lost. “It’s as easy, plain and simple as this: He’s not a fighter. He’s a manager. He’s a disappointment to the fans, I think, to my fans, to the real fans, to the hardcore. I call them my fans, the hardcore base, that’s the crew. You hear all those guys saying ‘champ shit only,’ that’s hardcore.”
“Those are the real fans, those guys pay the money for the Pay-per-Views,” Ferguson continued. “And the guys like Ali, those are the guys that f*cking stream that shit.”
Ferguson next turned his attention to questions regarding the Holloway fight that wasn’t. “I was coached to say no. I’ll be real with you guys. When have you guys ever known me to say no to a fight?”
Holloway, of course, eventually lost to Dustin Poirier for the latest interim title at lightweight. Ferguson, for his part, isn’t even sure titles matter anymore.
“You can try your best to win the title. I won the title, it got taken from me,” he pointed out. “A guy like Robert Whittaker got hurt same fucking way. There’s politics in that sh*t, man. I got an Ultimate Fighter trophy that hardly any of these dudes that are holding the belt have. I got a title belt. If I have a roof over my head, and I’m cashing checks and choking some necks, I’m always happy. The trophy don’t mean shit to me, literally. They’re going to do what they’re going to have to do to protect their guys and their pockets.”
“If they don’t like me, f*ck ’em. F*ck ’em if they can’t take a joke,” he added.
Asked why he bothers fighting, given that response, Ferguson suggested “that’s why you’re on that side of the camera. You’ll never get it. Same thing like Ali, he’ll never get it. It’s champ sh*t only, man.” To him, it’s something only an athlete will understand. The competitive nature, the feeling of hitting the wall, then breaking through.
Or, he simplified, “why do I do this? Smiles, man.”
Ferguson’s return to the UFC, as mentioned, didn’t come without some controversy thanks to those personal issues. At one point, UFC President Dana White insinuated Ferguson would need a medical evaluation to return. One from the UFC’s own doctors, rather than Ferguson’s.
Responding to that, Ferguson went on the attack. “I think he needs to be evaluated. We need to check his head. I don’t know how many interim title fights he can try to make me f*cking fight.”
Ferguson believes he did “everything I needed to do to get back to where I’m at. I’m happy to be here, this ain’t no 30 for 30. It ain’t man, this ain’t my time for that sh*t. I’m out-running the 20 year olds, and I’m out-sprinting the other guys. And as long as I keep doing that sh*t, don’t feel bad, don’t ask those dumb questions, and let’s keep f*cking moving forward. Let’s keep doing this sh*t, keep singing some good songs and making that Barbecue. Cowboy, I’m coming after you baby, you better be ready.”