Tony Ferguson has come a long way in a very short time.
Starting out as a cast member on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 13, he's finished everyone who's been in his way, scoring three devastating knockouts during the filming of the show and then capping it off with a first round finish of Ramsey Nijem on the finale to win the season.
It wasn't all sunshine and roses, however, as Ferguson had a drunken episode near the finale that immediately turned him into the season's villain.
Instead of playing along with the "heel" status earned at the end of the show, "El Cucuy" has put a serious effort into changing his image and being more professional. He wears suits during his post-fight interviews, he's respectful and he refuses to talk poorly of any of his opponents past or present.
Now just about two months removed from a spectacular jaw-breaking performance against Aaron Riley at UFC 135, Ferguson will step into the cage against another veteran in Yves Edwards this Saturday night (Dec. 3, 2011) at The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale. He opened up to MMAmania.com about training through Thanksgiving, how he matches up against Edwards and maturing as a fighter in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is your second fight at lightweight now, but I was reading some comments of yours and you said you were a "welterweight at heart." Can you explain that?
Tony Ferguson: Yeah, I like being a welterweight. Back in high school and college, I always just wrestled at my natural weight. My dad always told me, "Make sure to do it naturally, that way you don't have to worry about anything else." I did that my whole entire life and even though I dropped down to 155 now, I always know at my heart I was a 170 pounder because that's what my plaque says. That's what I won The Ultimate Fighter at and that's where my heart will always be. I love 155, don't get me wrong, either weight is awesome for me because I can fluctuate but 155 is where I'm at right now and where I'm going to continue right now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Understandable, also, you fought at UFC 135, which was just over two months ago. Was that your idea to get a fight so soon or did the UFC approach you because you had the TKO at the end of the first round?
Tony Ferguson: Ever since I've been competing, I always go back to the gym on that following Monday and I did the interview process for those guys on The Ultimate Fighter and I think they remembered that. They saw my work ethic in the house and they saw what I can do and I really didn't take too much damage so I was pretty sure they knew I could handle it. They watched me, I'm sure they had other people watch me and say, "Hey, I think we should give this kid another chance," because I know Jonathan Brookins didn't have a fight for a long time and here they are giving me a bunch of fights. I'm not complaining at all. I love this sport. I'm active in it and I don't do anything else besides training people in this sport for the last three and a half, four years. That's as long as I've been in any sport outside of college wrestling. After I made that jump, I was like, "This is it, man." I love it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I also saw that you mentioned you were hoping to go back to school and get your degree this fall. Were those plans derailed when you got another fight signed so quickly?
Tony Ferguson: Yeah, it did but honestly, there's no excuses. If I really wanted it, I probably should have been in there doing it again, you know what I mean? The thing is, I can take online classes. I was just kind of waiting. This year has been really, really busy and I told my coach, "I want to do it right next year," I want to make sure I've got all my ducks in a row, get all my 'T's' crossed and my 'I's' dotted and make sure we do it right. 2012 is going to be a big year, man.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Were the temptations difficult at all in the preparation for this fight? You had to go through Halloween, you had to go through Thanksgiving and you basically couldn't fully participate with the candy and the binge eating alongside everyone else.
Tony Ferguson: Well it was okay. What I did was if I wanted to eat something, I worked harder. On Thanksgiving, it wasn't that hard, but I went to three families and of course they all wanted to feed you. Everyone understood because it wasn't like it was the first time around so no one tried to pressure me or make me feel bad for not eating everything but what I did do was I ate a bit and then I worked it off. I went for a run that night on Thanksgiving and even on Halloween, I really didn't do too much. I dressed up and then I went longboarding. I don't know if you've ever seen longboarding but I got together with my friends and did that. That's just a passion of mine, I used to play guitar, I used to play video games and now when I'm longboarding, all my worries go away.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming fight. Yves Edwards, that's a huge fight and this is your second fight in a row against a guy who's had more than 40 professional fights. Do you feel almost honored that they're throwing you in against guys so experienced so early in your UFC career?
Tony Ferguson: Of course, man. I've had thousands of matches and they never ease you up. It's all about experience. With me, you've got a wrestler with great hands going in there against a guy who's got everything. Yves Edwards is one of those guys, I didn't follow the UFC back in the day, but Yves Edwards is one of the guys who revolutionized the lighter weights. When I fought Aaron Riley, he shook my hand in the back, you might have saw it but we were in the back, his jaw was broken and he shook my hand and he looked at me and I finally got it. It was a passing of the torch, you know?
It was like, "Okay, you beat me, now do something with it," and that's what I want to do. One of the guys I fought before, he messages me and tells me, "Good luck, Tony," on my Facebook wall. What kind of former opponent does that? The guy that beat you and probably took your chance of going to The Ultimate Fighter? It's all about sportsmanship and that's what I'm trying to keep holding on to that torch. When I see Yves Edwards and Aaron Riley, they're the sport, man. They don't trash talk and they don't do anything else. They hold this sport on their shoulders very well and that's all I hope I can do.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you've mentioned you watch quite a bit of film of your opponents and Yves has had some crazy highlights throughout his career. Was there anything that stuck out to you in particular when you watched him?
Tony Ferguson: You know, it was just that he's so squirrely. I see myself like that but I see myself as Yves 10 years ago. Yves isn't coming up anymore, this is my time. When I fought Chuck O'Neil and afterwards, I said, "This is my time!" I wasn't lying. I feel I've worked so hard for the last 20 years I've been competing. This is the highest pinnacle and I've got to win and I'm gonna bring it to this guy. We're gonna give everybody a great show.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The left hook is one of your favorite strikes to throw, it helped you win The Ultimate Fighter. Does that give you any confidence considering Yves was knocked out by a big left hook in one of his last fights against Sam Stout?
Tony Ferguson: Oh yeah. He'll have to keep his right hand up or it'll be the same thing. Yves is a fighter who's knocked people with his right hook too so we're going to be trying to do the same thing to each other, with that left side of me and that right side of him. It's make or break, but that's where we see the film and we learn from our opponents and we benefit from it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Would you be confident trading blow for blow with him or would you want to be more cautious?
Tony Ferguson: Oh yeah, you should see some of the guys I spar with. These guys walk around and they're really scrappy. I know a lot of guys who are willing to kick my butt and I do a lot of shell training which is I'm taking a lot of impact trauma so when this guy tries to kick me, he's gonna have a hand in his face. If these guys at 170 pounds tried to kick me, tried to hit me, tried to take me down and I still won The Ultimate Fighter? Then I feel bad for these 155-ers.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've talked about how you get in a zone when you're training, that's actually how you earned your nickname so can you talk about that zone you get into when you're in intense training?
Tony Ferguson: I get in this intense zone and I go into a meditative state where I just go and I imagine myself digging into a hole and I see lights going past me. That's my tunnel vision. As soon as I get into my tunnel vision, there's nothing that can stop it. It's like my own little rhythm, my own beat in my head where I'm just there and you can tell in my eyes. My eyes are how you can tell what I'm feeling, where I am or if I'm focused or if I'm not there. I just tunnel everything and that's the biggest thing. I got my nickname, "El Cucuy" or "The Boogeyman" because I'm scary. I saw the thing with me on The Ultimate Fighter where I'm scary. That's what I try to bring into the cage and then leave it in there so I don't have to bring "El Cucuy" out anymore and I haven't other than that one night on the show.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It sounds like you've really taken the maturation process seriously now that you've gotten into the UFC.
Tony Ferguson: You know, you have to. This is my career. It's almost like I was in the mail room when I was six years old when I got started with wrestling. When you put in your time and you go through years and years of time and then you need to catch a break. My break was getting into the show but it's not over yet. It's like I got to the CEO level and then there was a big stack of paperwork that was left to do. You thought it was all done? Nope. That's how I feel. I'm still at the bottom and I'm still working my way up regardless of whether I won the show or not. That doesn't say nothing.
I had one bad night and it gave people tons of stuff to talk about. I realized that wasn't me. It was me, but it was a different personality. The UFC, you're supposed to grow up. I wasn't employed by the UFC then. This employment with Dana White giving me an opportunity, hell no I won't risk that. I straightened up. I've got a fiance. I've got a puppy, a little french bulldog, her name is Knuckles and this is it, man. This is what we live for, the ability to compete and be able to have fans that love watching you. It gives me an opportunity to express myself as a martial artist.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So what do you think a victory over Yves Edwards would do for you in your career right now?
Tony Ferguson: I think it would help me celebrate Christmas a lot easier (laughs). I just want to enjoy the holidays. Regardless of the outcome, I hope both of us come out safe and I hope both of us can put on a great show so everybody in the world can enjoy what we do.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you're visualizing success, how do you see victory coming, say if you close your eyes and you think about the fight?
Tony Ferguson: I see victory coming my way in a couple different areas. In my Aaron Riley fight, I saw victory coming in a different way. I didn't expect to break his jaw and have the fight stopped like that. In this fight, I just expect to go out there, throw blows and let my hands fly. I've had a couple people tell me, "Let them fly man, why are you afraid to let them fly? Just go out there and do what you do naturally which is compete and fight," so that's what you guys are gonna see. If I win or if I lose, it doesn't matter. I'm gonna go out there and fight my heart out just like you guys have always seen.
Tony would like to thank his coaches Joseph Janik, his manager Brian Stegeman, his gym Knuckleheadz Boxing, Death Clutch, Dymatize Products, Everlast for the help with equipment and his fans, friends and everyone that's ever wished him good luck.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Ferguson put some fear into Edwards with another highlight reel knockout? Does he have the potential to stand out in the crowded lightweight division?