UFC 166 fighter Tony Ferguson ate his 80-calorie, low-fat meal with the same joy as eating a steak sandwich a day before he weighed in for his fight. It's a positive he has to make out of sticking to a strict diet leading into a UFC card he's on.
The same can be said about the broken arm he suffered in his last fight, a loss to Michael Johnson at UFC on FOX 3. The 17-month layoff that followed gave him time to not only recuperate, but also clear his head.
“What that did is it gave me a good break, mentally, physically emotionally – exactly what I needed,” Ferguson told MMAWeekly.com. “I'm in a good spot now and any person that gets in that cage with me is going to have his hands full.”
The fighter said he had to “up and move” from his comfort zone in Ventura, Calif., at Knuckleheadz Boxing. Ferguson and his wife packed their bags and made their way down the California coast to Orange County, where he now trains with Mark Munoz and the team at Reign Training Center.
The move, he said, was one of the best Ferguson has ever made. While leaving home was tough, it was better for his career because he wasn't getting any better by sticking around. The talent down at Reign, Ferguson explained, has pushed him above what was previously his ceiling.
“When I broke my arm in my last fight, I had a lot of brainstorming to do and I had to make a choice. I ended up switching teams,” he said. “I went from Knuckleheadz Boxing to Reign Training Center and made it my headquarters. It was probably one of the best moves I could have ever made. It sucked to leave the home base of Knuckleheadz Boxing, where I started, but I wasn't getting any better. I was plateauing in my performance and my last fight showed. I was never going to let that happen again. I belong at this level and I know I can compete at this level and get my butt kicked in practice – that's exactly what's going on.”
Specifically, Ferguson's wrestling was being put on the back burner in training before he changed camps. He came from a wrestling background, but neglected training much in the discipline lately because he was so focused on his boxing.
Training with guys like Munoz, a former Division 1 wrestler at Oklahoma State University, brought Ferguson back to what he grew up doing. So, technically, by leaving his comfort zone in Ventura, he rediscovered another comfort zone at Reign.
“Before the move to Lake Forrest (where Reign is located), all I'd do is really concentrate on my boxing,” he said. “I come from a heavy, steady wrestling background, wrestling for like 20 years. I competed in college, high school, middle school, even before then when I was really young. So what it did was it brought me back to my roots, to be able to dig deep and get back that mentality of being able to be coachable and being around people doing the same thing that I'm doing at the same level or above. It opened my eyes to exactly where I should be at, not where I want to be at. (Reign) is where I need to be at. It's been a blessing since then.”
Sticking to boxing hurt him in his last fight, Ferguson said. He went into the bout with the mentality of a purely stand-up fighter and not a mixed martial artist, and paid for it with a series of kicks that broke his arm in the second round. He continued fighting after that point because he wasn't going to let someone finish him like that. He would have to be killed before something like that happened.
The pain from the arm break was one he felt for half the fight, but he wasn't about to let everyone else know that. The warrior in him wouldn't allow spectators to witness him fall to such a place.
“Not a lot of people saw because I hid my face really well,” he said. “I'm a warrior and you see a lot of us (fighters) that end up going through those kinds of things. Mentally, when we're inside the cage, we just kind of push it to the side of our head and just push forward. That's exactly what I did.”
With a rediscovered love for his wrestling pedigree and a new team backing him, Ferguson is ready to be the “TUFest” guy in the cage on Saturday night in Houston. Ferguson said his opponent, Mike Rio, will learn that the hardest way possible.
“I'm an Ultimate Fighter and that's what ‘TUF' stands for,” he said. “I'm a ‘TUF' guy.”