Tony Ferguson is relaxed as ever heading into title bout, thanks in large part to 'The Ultimate Fighter'

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Tony Ferguson taunts Khabib Nurmagomedov during a UFC event at TD Garden on Jan. 19, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Getty)
Tony Ferguson taunts Khabib Nurmagomedov during a UFC event at TD Garden on Jan. 19, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Getty)

There have been calls in some corners to cancel “The Ultimate Fighter,” the UFC’s reality series that saved the company in 2005 when it was more than $40 million in debt and on the verge of going under.

It’s gotten old, critics say, and its ratings reflect that.

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The series has produced nine champions, and one of them, lightweight champion Tony Ferguson, said it is a critical piece of his development process.

Ferguson is in camp for the biggest fight of his career, a title bout in the main event of UFC 233 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn against unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov.

About two weeks from fight night, it can be a stressful time for a fighter. Media obligations begin to pile up, friends and family clamor for tickets, last-minute details need to be attended to and then there’s the whole process of cutting weight.

Ferguson, though, is as relaxed as he’s ever been as he prepares to take his toughest fight. He posted video of himself on Instagram hitting the speed bag while wearing slacks and dress shoes, as well as blindfolded.

He was responding to fans who said he doesn’t know how to hit the bag, but what he showed in actuality is that he’s calm and sure of himself and ready for the challenge that is to come.

That, Ferguson said, in large part can be attributed to the experiences he gained during Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

“I have nobody who is doing what I’m doing, so I have to resolve back to what I know, which is being a professional. And I learned that in the house” Ferguson said. “I went in there and I went through all that comes with being there, and knowing you are going to have to fight the guy who’s sleeping in the same room as you. There is a development that comes with that. We like to say we know everything, but you find yourself in a situation like that, where, boom, everything is changed on you and all that you know and understand and believe has been switched up and you have to learn on the fly how to deal with it.”

Ferguson and Nurmagomedov were supposed to meet three times previously, and three times, the fight was called off. Ferguson and Nurmagomedov each pulled out once because of injuries, and at UFC 209 last year, Nurmagomedov was hospitalized because of issues with his weight cut.

Ferguson insists that is in the past, though he was left on the sidelines without a fight despite having made weight and being ready to go.

He upped the ante by saying Nurmagomedov never really wanted to fight and insisting he’s not angry at the barbs Nurmagomedov has tossed at him.

“What he’s done is surround himself with people who are floating his head, making it increasingly big like a hot air balloon,” Ferguson said of Nurmagomedov’s teammates at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. “He’s not around his Pops and these guys are pumping his head up to the point where it’s about to explode. I feel like he’s prepared for me more than enough times, and he failed on the last [scheduled] fight.

Ferguson said he’s “popping and locking and enjoying the process,” and enjoying the journey. It’s all a part of the path he took, he said, when he first walked into the TUF house.

“That opened my eyes and let me know what I’m capable of doing and where I’m capable of going,” he said. “The world will soon see the results of all of this. I’m just here doing my thing, doing the right things to make this next step. … When you went through the house, you are a little more durable, you understand when it’s lights, camera, action and how to prepare and how to recover and how to take care of yourself. That experience is something I would never trade and it did so much for me making me who I am today.”

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