To snap a five-fight losing streak and get back to being himself again, Tony Ferguson had to get a little selfish.
That didn’t mean neglecting his wife and kids or cutting himself off from the world; that meant digging in (even more than usual) and focusing on what made him one of the best 155-pounders of this era.
“When the pandemic hit, it took a full pandemic to throw me off and I really stopped worrying about myself,” Ferguson said. “Something happened to me where, I don't know how to explain it, but I started just taking care of other kinds of business. I was really one of the only people that was working, and I just saw something just needed to change with me and I had to put my energy towards other things and that was helping younger fighters. It's something I do, and it's cool, but what I realized is that energy gets displaced and then the more that you care about that, the more that your energy gets separated and you start to lose focus on what's really important, which is me. In this fight game you have to be selfish and that's why I really started doing this fight camp.”
That fight camp, in Big Bear, California, was back to basics in a lot of ways for “El Cucuy,” who faces Bobby Green this Saturday on the UFC 291 main card. Sure, he had Cristina and their two boys up on the mountain with him, but they were in a separate cabin as Ferguson and his team worked and bonded – and had the occasional bear sighting.
“It was miserable up there,” he said. “It was kind of like the Army of Darkness cabin in the middle of the woods kind of s**t, where bears were crossing and stuff. And man, it was hot. We had no fans, no laundry, and it was the best thing I could have ever had. It was closest to camping as we possibly could have had, bonding with my family, bonding with my team and hunting bears. We were getting, not chased by bears, but we were running into bears left and right out there. So it wasn't full of s**t, being like, ‘Hey, yeah, if you see a bear, run the other way.’ No, it’s being real; if you see a bear, take his back.”
Ferguson laughs, and he sounds good. Positive, excited to fight, excited to get back in the win column for the first time since he stopped Donald Cerrone in June 2019. Four years is a long time without getting your hand raised, and while Ferguson’s losses came against a Murderers Row of Justin Gaethje, Charles Oliveira, Beneil Dariush, Michael Chandler and Nate Diaz, the 39-year-old is uninterested in silver linings or moral victories.
“I've always been in fighter mode,” Ferguson explains. “What I had to do is acclimate. I had to really acclimate towards what I wanted, towards what I was feeling, how I was feeling, and not really worrying about anybody else. And my wife, I'll be real with you, she's been a f**king G, just by helping me and being on point and letting me know, ‘Hey, you know what? Don't worry about this. We got this.’ And I could trust this and delegate instead of having to worry about everything. When the pandemic hit, I felt like I was just taking care of just so much s**t. My business was the only one that didn't shut down time during the pandemic.
“So, we all went through that, but it was hard for me to bounce back,” he continues. “My whole entire team disappeared; they had to go worry about what was important, which is family. And so I had to find out how to get back to where I needed to be and it took me a while and a lot of pain, but if anybody could take it, it was me.”
Tony Ferguson | Top 5 Moments
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Tony Ferguson | Top 5 Moments
That’s always been the case for a fighter willing to walk through fire to get the job done. So he took the pain. Now it’s time to give it back, and in a storybook world, it’s almost as if Ferguson is going back in time for a fresh start against a California rival he never fought in Green.
That’s my romantic notion of this fight. What’s Ferguson’s storyline for Saturday night?
“I want five fights and then a title,” he said. “It's got to be five of the right fights, finish the right way with all the fixings, just like a nice little steak that you're throwing on the grill with the sweet potato pie and everything else that goes with it. The sweeter that each fight gets, the closer I'm going to get to that title. When I remodeled my house, I made room. I had to make room on my plate. It wasn't like, oh, I got enough on my plate. No, I had to get a bigger f**king plate. And right now, I got Bobby Green and he likes to talk s**t. And when somebody likes to talk s**t, a guy would have better luck running through hell with his underwear soaked in gasoline than to f**k with a guy like me.”
Welcome back, “El Cucuy.”