Why Tony Ferguson doesn't care for UFC gold: 'Belt is tarnished'

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Tony Ferguson continues to rack up wins in the UFC, and he keeps getting passed over for title shots. (Getty)
Tony Ferguson continues to rack up wins in the UFC, and he keeps getting passed over for title shots. (Getty)

Tony Ferguson may be the most underrated, underappreciated fighter in the UFC.

He’s won eight in a row and 11 of 12 overall in the UFC. He’s won Fight of the Night in each of his last two outings and has gotten a Performance of the Night bonus in each of his last four.

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Six of his last eight wins have come by finish, and he’s bested a series of elite opponents, including Edson Barboza and Josh Thomson.

Yet, Ferguson is still not fighting for the UFC’s lightweight title, though he insists he’s not worried about the belt. He’ll fight former champion Rafael dos Anjos on Nov. 5 in Mexico City, a week before current champion Eddie Alvarez defends the belt in the main event of UFC 205 in New York against featherweight champion Conor McGregor.

Ferguson, 32, is a fascinating character who said he’s more focused on getting a black belt from Eddie Bravo than he is getting a title shot.

He was tending to his infant son, Armand Anthony, while he spoke, and it was pointed out to him that no matter what he thinks of the belt, it will help increase his earnings and better enable him to provide for his family should he win it.

“It does [bring along a lot more money], but I’m not hurting,” he said. “My wife has a great job. I have a great, phenomenal job. And you know what? Even if I were to walk away right now and go into the contracting business, I’d probably make more money than I am right now. The best thing about it is, I’m able to support myself in many more ways than one.

“I don’t know how many fighters would even do that. I don’t need to keep my name out there by talking [expletive] and by trying to bring myself down to their level. My interviews are pretty much heated all the time, only because when people give me those questions, I’m a blue-chip athlete. I’m a blue-chip athlete who comes from an academic background. I use my head. I’m not just a knucklehead.”

He said he walks around between fights at 205 pounds or so, but insisted he could fight in any one of four weight classes – 145, 155, 170 and 185 – and be successful.

Ferguson could have gotten a title shot at any point in the last year or two and no one would have had grounds to complain about it. Still, he’s not that concerned about the title picture, he says.

He’s more into improving and become a complete martial artist.

“If my concern was getting a shot at the belt as soon as possible, I’d probably be [angry],” he said. “I’m more interested in receiving my black belt from Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet jiu-jitsu system than the UFC belt right now. The [UFC] belt is tarnished, man. I feel like the belt has been in so many different hands, it’s so polluted. It needs to be recycled by the time I get there.

“I think everybody wants me to get the title, but for me, I don’t do what everybody else wants me to do. I’m a leader, not a follower, man. I’m a super fighter. I create super fights. The people who actually give me the righteous fights are the ones who are going to be the best for me, give or take whether it’s a title fight. I really don’t give a [expletive]. I really don’t.”

He said he’s been through “multiple epiphanies” in his career, but said fans know that when he’s fighting, regardless of the opponent, it’s a must-see bout.

“My interviews and the way I talk, it might not be the most savvy, but I’m not here to do that,” he said. “We’re swimming in the shark tank and I’m a hammerhead in here. These other dudes are guppies. With that being said, my skill set is too complete for these guys.

“It’s hard to say, and I hate to put it into words, I’m the best pound-for-pound [fighter] in this [lightweight] division, as well as the one before it [featherweight] and the one after it [welterweight]. I guarantee it.”

He said he has an undying passion for improving himself athletically every day, and said he’s learned much about his body. He said it’s why he could fight at 185 with few issues. He is, he said, the same size as ex-light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, who will debut as a middleweight at UFC 205.

He’s interested, he said, in kinesiology and the biomechanics of how the body functions.

He’s doing his own strength and conditioning for the dos Anjos fight. Not only has it saved him money from hiring a coach, it’s made him better.

“Dude, I know exactly what I’m doing and how to do it and how my body works,” he said. “When I go to a new place, sometimes they don’t help. They don’t have that experience with me. I’ll roll my eyes sometimes, though I’ll still do the drills. I’ll spend $1,000 on 20 sessions and I’ll only use half, because I know I have to do something better.”

He said he’s confident that he’ll prove himself right over time.

He wants to go to featherweight at one point and score a big win and then move up to 170.

This is the kind of talk that causes Dana White nightmares. It’s tough enough to get guys to defend their belts in one division, but when they begin competing in multiple, there always seems to be an issue.

Ferguson, though, sloughs off such worries.

“I can fluctuate my weight and be successful because I’m a stud, man,” he said. “I’m working hard, and not only am I working hard, I work smart. I have my own academy, my private facility here in [Orange County] that nobody knows about. … And I’m making a difference in myself every day. If they don’t already, people will realize what’s going on soon enough.”

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