Tony Ferguson’s 2020 campaign saw him do something he’d never done before: lose back-to-back fights.
Last year was a major letdown for Ferguson, 37, who once again missed out on a fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov that was scheduled for UFC 249, was dominated and finished in the fifth round by Nurmagomedov’s replacement Justin Gaethje, and then went on to lose a one-sided decision to Charles Oliveira at UFC 256.
It isn’t just that Ferguson had never lost consecutive fights. Before the Gaethje bout, Ferguson hadn’t lost any fights in eight years and 12 UFC appearances. Outside of Nurmagomedov, no lightweight had proven to be more indomitable than Ferguson over the past decade.
But the way he sees it, a couple of setbacks is exactly what he needed to right the ship.
“Last year, it had nothing to do with coaches or anything else,” Ferguson said in an interview with Submission Radio (transcription via Denis Shkuratov). “Seriously, I take all the fault and all my blame on it, but the two losses that I had, I’m gonna be real with you guys, it was the best learning experience I probably could’ve ever had and the best thing that was for me and my family.
“Chasing after a guy like Khabib and then trying to get the fight and then not getting the fight and then having interim belts dangled in front of you, the game is what it is. You can’t get mad at the game. But how you play the game is exactly your approach. And that’s what I did for this year. I completely changed my approach.”
Ahead of his fight with Beneil Dariush at UFC 262 on May 15, Ferguson is spending time with legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach at the Wild Card gym in Los Angeles and he praised the environment there as he prepares for this pivotal lightweight matchup.
Ferguson has spoken about needing to have that “varsity mentality” in the past to explain the level that one has to train at to be an elite fighter, but with Roach and company he’s stepping his work up even further.
“Instead of a varsity mentality I went back to an Olympic mentality and I started surrounding myself around people that are hungry how I am and how they’ve been for a long time,” Ferguson said. “And I started to find myself over at Wild Card a lot easier, because that’s where I knew that I could find that kind of grind.”
“You’ve got amateurs, you’ve got pros, and you have Olympians,” he continued. “And you have a different look at everything, but the grind is still the same, it does not f*cking change. And it’s nice to be around that because of that structure. For the longest time I had to structure myself and I did that, especially with balancing everything. What’s cool is being able to have the perspective of my coaches and my team to be able to understand the game of martial arts as a whole. And it’s been really nice, man. I’m gonna be real, it’s a really cool approach at how my trainers and training partners at Wild Card, and even in general my new training partners now, how the perspective they’ve been getting the reps in. Like I said, last year I had to care about a lot of other people’s happiness before myself, to make sure other people were good.”
Asked if he feels like his next fight is a “do-or-die” scenario, Ferguson disagreed. He replied, “Absolutely not,” and credited Oliveira for being the younger, hungrier fighter, comparing Oliveira to Mr. T’s “Clubber Lang” character from the third Rocky film.
He also wanted to make it clear that he’s by no means looking past Dariush, a veteran lightweight who is capable of generating highlights by both knockout and submission. It’s that all-around threat that has Ferguson excited about the matchup and what it could bring out of him.
“He’s been doing the game for a long time,” Ferguson said of Dariush. “He’s over at Huntington beach with Rafael Cordeiro. He’s a southpaw, he’s very strong on his left side. He’s very game in mixing it up. So, that’s why I’ve been mixing my s*it up. Because I got too one-dimensional. When you get too one-dimensional, you start to plateau. And as a master trainer, you should be able to realize that and then understand that, make some changes, and then be able to get your athlete back on the same program, which was, not peaking, but steadily increasing. Paying attention to the smaller details are always going to make the best things. And Beneil and their team, they got a s*itload of people over there helping them out. They got like an Ultimate Fighter team. It feels like I’m back on The Ultimate Fighter, guys. It really does.”
“I’m hungry as f*ck and I’m back,” Ferguson added. “I’m really back on it. And I’m mixing it up really, really well, better than a f*cking blender.”
Watch Ferguson’s full interview with Submission Radio here: