By: Jesse Donathan
“El Cucuy” is the boogeyman. A monster that leaves even veteran cowboys shaken in their boots. Tony Ferguson (25-3) defeated Donald Cerrone Saturday night at UFC 238 via TKO doctor’s stoppage. The last time Ferguson lost a fight was May 5, 2012 at UFC on Fox 3 to the always tough Michael Johnson. Since then, “El Cucuy” has been on a remarkable 12-fight winning streak in the organization against some of the best fighters in the division.
According to an October 8, 2017 Washington Post article titled, “UFC 216: Tony Ferguson wins interim lightweight title with submission over Kevin Lee,” author Marissa Payne writes that, “It was Grade A beef coming into this fight between Vegas-odds favorite Ferguson and the underdog Lee.” The Grade A beef, an allusion to the stereotypical bad blood role playing card often played by fighters in the lead up to a fight. It’s a go to move in the fight promotion game to stir interest among fans and give media pundits something to write and talk about.
“In the end,” writes Payne, “It was Ferguson who proved victorious and was crowned the interim lightweight champion with his submission of Lee.”
Traditionally spoken of in condescending terms, the UFC interim title doesn’t hold as much weight as the undisputed belt despite being a legitimate, recognized championship nonetheless. But unfortunately for Ferguson, his run as the interim title holder only lasted a New York minute.
According to an October 2, 2018 MMAFighting.com article titled, “Tony Ferguson on UFC stripping interim title: ‘How do you think I f*cking feel?’,” author Marc Raimondi writes that Ferguson, “Was the UFC’s interim lightweight champion until the belt was taken away following a severe knee injury he sustained prior to a scheduled fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223 in April.”
“You shouldn’t strip a champion due to a freak injury that happened during a UFC-obligated media event,” said Ferguson on The MMA Hour in an April 2, 2018 article for MMAFighting.com.
According to the author Dave Doyle, Ferguson reportedly, “Tripped over a heavy production cable in a dark room,” while on set for a FOX television interview. It was a serious injury, one which required immense sacrifice and hard work from Ferguson in order to bounce back, yet Ferguson did so in almost superhuman fashion.
Interestingly enough, ESPN analyst Chael Sonnen is on record as stating that the chord Tony Ferguson tripped over has taken multiple victims out over the course of the years, including one individual who reportedly broke their back and a handful of others to include the UFC’s own heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
Since capturing the UFC lightweight interim title against Kevin Lee and subsequently being stripped of his belt, Ferguson has rattled off two straight victories including defeating former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis via corner stoppage and now two-division refugee Donald Cerrone via TKO doctor’s stoppage Saturday night.
“Cerrone’s right eye swelled shut,” writes Cindy Boren in her June 9, 2019 Washington Post article titled, “Tony Ferguson beats Donald Cerrone, who made the mistake of blowing his nose.” According to Boren, “He was taken to a hospital afterward with what UFC President Dana White said was a broken right orbital bone.”
Cerrone, a veteran UFC fighter that has fought in both the UFC lightweight and welterweight divisions no doubt was well aware that blowing his nose after a breakage could result in one or both of his eyes swelling shut; thus, forcing the doctors to stop the fight. But with a reported broken orbital bone, a serious and painful injury I don’t think anyone can blame “Cowboy” for giving in to what is likely an irresistible urge to clear your obstructed airway of unpleasantness.
According to a June 7, 2019 mmamania.com article titled, “Dana White won’t commit to Tony Ferguson title shot with UFC 238 win: ‘I can’t say that’s gonna happen’,” author Dan Hiergesell writes that Ferguson is, “not guaranteed the next shot at the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier,” which is scheduled to go down later this year in September.
The undefeated Nurmagomedov captured the undisputed UFC lightweight title against Al Iaquinta in April of 2018, defeating the spirited Iaquinta by unanimous decision. Nurmagomedov would go on to defend his title against former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor, who no doubt still looms in the lightweight picture; mucking up the waters of what would otherwise be an open and shut case for Tony Ferguson contending for the undisputed belt.
Purely speculative, the UFC would no doubt like to insert McGregor back into a title picture. Which would go a long way in helping McGregor and the UFC to secure a future big money payday in a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the squared circle. But the circumstances have to be right and unfortunately that could mean “El Cucuy” takes a back seat to what brings the most money to the organization as strategy takes precedent over any legitimate claims to the throne.
I don’t think anyone doubts how good Tony Ferguson is. The man has a rightful claim to the UFC lightweight crown, having never lost his interim title in the cage and only being stripped for what in all intents and purposes amounts to an injustice by the UFC. Ferguson should spare no opportunity to remind the public he is uncrowned UFC lightweight champion, because the UFC would otherwise like to quietly brush him under the table as a less marketable, yet incredibly capable fighter that unfortunately has been left on the outside looking in.
Which spells out the ugly truth in the modern day mixed martial arts landscape, the rankings and even the best fighters in the division will take a back seat to marketability and thus profitability every single time. And it doesn’t matter who you are, even the great Tony Ferguson is going to take a number to Conor McGregor when the possibility of a mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather looms just on the horizon should the Irishmen find himself back in the saddle again.
For Ferguson, it’s a catch 22 predicament where by all things right, good and true he should be next in line for the UFC lightweight title. In his way, Mt. McGregor; an almost insurmountable climb. If “El Cucuy” hopes to make an impact on his championship future, Tony Ferguson is going to need to enter WWE mode. Rounding out his mixed martial arts game with the ancient art of promotion in order to keep his name in the headlines and fresh on the minds of mixed martial arts notoriously fickle fans. Ferguson needs to give the UFC a reason to look his way beyond leaving bodies in his wake, and what better way than to remind the public you’re the UFC interim lightweight champion at every waking moment and pick fights with everyone of note.