It isn’t reflected on his record, but Tony Ferguson scored what he considers one of the most significant victories of his legendary MMA career last week.
On April 9, the UFC was forced to cancel UFC 249, which was scheduled at that point for April 18 at the Tachi Palace in Lemoore, California. Gov. Gavin Newsom called Disney executives and asked them not to broadcast the card on ESPN because of the coronavirus pandemic.
UFC president Dana White agreed when ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro asked him to stand down.
Once the event was postponed, the fighters had no idea when, or if, they’d compete. But the postponement had little impact on Ferguson. On April 17, he began his weight cut as he would have done if the fight was held the next night, as scheduled.
At the appointed time, Ferguson stepped onto the scale and hit the lightweight title fight limit of 155 pounds for what had been a planned interim championship match with Justin Gaethje. The fight has now been rescheduled for May 9 at a location to be announced, though it is reportedly in Florida.
“I made weight as something to do for me, but a lot of people were inspired by it,” Ferguson told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “That’s pretty cool, but I wanted to keep my word and make sure things were going to go how we had planned it, just like a regular fight. I don’t expect people to understand why I did it, but it was done for me and my team and I definitely consider that a win, a big win. I feel like I’m coming into this camp [for Gaethje] off of a very solid, motivating win.”
David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL and an ultra-marathoner who once set a world record by doing 4,030 pullups in 17 hours, was one of those inspired by Ferguson’s weight cut.
Goggins posted a video of himself on Twitter during a training run talking to the camera, and he brought up Ferguson’s accomplishment.
“I got a video the other day of this UFC fighter, Ferguson,” Goggins says to the camera as he runs. “This [expletive] weighed in and the UFC was [expletive] canceled. He wasn’t just weighing in; he was getting in the head of his [expletive] opponent. What he did was this: He wanted you to remember that his hands and elbows slice you the [expletive] up. Remember this: Stay hard at all times. Savagery.”
For Ferguson, the decision to do that was simple. He doesn’t abide by convention or do things simply because his peers do them. This is a guy on a 12-fight winning streak who, until this camp, hadn’t sparred in nearly five years.
Why quarantine has been easy for UFC’s Ferguson
He talked about people who are going stir crazy as they are quarantined in their homes during the pandemic, but said it’s been easy for him.
“Here’s what you got to understand: Opponents switch, dates switch, venues switch,” Ferguson said. “None of that [expletive] is in my control. What is in my control is what I do and how I use my time. I have basically quarantined myself for these last however many years, and I used this time to — every [expletive] day, every [expletive] minute of every one of those days — to do something to make myself better.
“You want to be great, you have to live it, breathe it, be all about it. You have to learn to love the grind and learn to love everything involved in this business. I appreciate this sport so much, but I hear people saying the game has changed with all the media and everything. To me, all of that is [expletive]. I am a blue-chip athlete and I am doing what blue-chip athletes do. I’m continuing to grind and continuing to push myself.”
One of the things he’s done in this camp has been to do live sparring with MMA gloves on. The last time Ferguson sparred during a camp, it was when he was preparing to fight Gleison Tibau at UFC 184 on Feb. 28, 2015.
Since then, he’s never sparred in camp. He’s spent his time working on adding other elements to his game. He made the analogy of a doctoral student finally completing his studies and being able to go to the hospital to see patients.
“I have an academy over here; I don’t call it a gym,” he said. “And what I’m doing is, I’m honing all of my tools. I’m always learning. I always make sure I take a white-belt approach. I observe and I listen more than I do talk.
“I’m going to be real: This is on a whole different level. I worked hard on the body and I got my shins hard and my elbows super sharp and I just pushed myself to the next level, the next level, next, next, next. Now, after that weight cut I’m in camp very clear-headed and no matter what is going on in the world, I just have to focus on one thing. … I feel like I’m ready to now let it all go and show the world something special.”
More from Yahoo Sports: