Plenty of mixed martial artists visualize a game plan for each fight. Few are willing to tell the world what that game plan is.
As often is the case, Tony Ferguson can be counted among the few.
Always a unique character in the sport, Ferguson knows exactly what he wants to do to Khabib Nurmagomedov in their lightweight title bout at UFC 223 on April 7 at Barclays Center, and he isn’t afraid to tell the world.
“I’m going to embarrass him,” Ferguson said. “I don’t want to hurt the guy, I’m going to embarrass him. So he’s got one chance to sit down, quit and walk away.”
Ferguson, the UFC’s interim 155-pound champion, is extremely confident entering his main event with Nurmagomedov for the UFC’s lightweight title, which will be stripped from Conor McGregor ahead of the event. It’s a predictable mindset for a fighter of Ferguson’s prestige — he’s won 10 consecutive fights and is 13-1 in the UFC — but the unbeaten Nurmagomedov is a challenge none have come close to solving.
Ferguson, however, thinks he is the solution to the problem that is “The Eagle.”
“I’m going to put him on his back, I’m going to take him down. You think he’s been preparing any rubber guard? I hope so, but I don’t think so. He’s got no flexibility, his right knee is a bum knee,” Ferguson said. “His conditioning is weak and his body, he’s really had a lot of problems with his weight cut. So where do you think I’m going to go with my punches? There’s no secret, I’m going to punish his body. Then I’m going to go upstairs, I’m going to take him down, I’m going to go knee-on-belly, I’m going to put my hand on his throat and I’m going to hold my hand up like a [expletive] wolverine claw and I’m going to tell him to [expletive] quit.”
That’s quite the vivid picture, and “El Cucuy” has had plenty of time to paint it.
The pair was scheduled to meet in December 2015, and again in April 2016, and once more last March. Each time, the fight didn’t materialize, first due to a Nurmagomedov injury, then a Ferguson lung issue. Most recently at UFC 209, Nurmagomedov pulled from the bout following a failed weight-cut ahead of their planned interim title fight.
“I’ve prepared for this guy a couple times already and nothing’s really changed,” said the Californian Ferguson. “I’m going to bring it. I’m not going to be scared to use wrestling, and I think I’ve been sandbagging my wrestling for everyone for so damn long — and my boxing and my Muay Thai — that everybody forgot that I’m actually a great stand-up fighter. I beat one of the world’s best in Edson Barboza and I outstruck him.”
Ferguson believes Nurmagomedov isn’t as disciplined and mentally tough as he needs to be to compete over five rounds at this level, with the Russian needing to add a nutritionist and others to his team this fight camp.
“The opponent we have right now typically is a sambo style fighter and he’s very tough and has a strong head on his shoulders, but I just see that he’s weak in so many different departments that he had to hire a bigger team and really needed more time,” Ferguson said. “If the dude was ready, he would have fought me in May, I gave him that opportunity. But he wanted to go fight somebody else. You don’t want to fight me, you never did.”
When they enter the cage, Ferguson is sure Nurmagomedov’s conditioning won’t hold up.
“Half of his fights were only two-round fights. These weren’t sanctioned three-round fights. His conditioning hasn’t even been tested yet. You want to go into deep waters, son, you’re going to fight the kraken. I’m no longer a hammerhead, I’m the [expletive] kraken. I’m the guy that’s going to have the longest limbs, I’m going to ankle-pick you, I’m going to put you on your back, I’m going to spin you around like a turtle and I’m going to go knee-on-belly and I’m going to give you one chance with my arm around your neck and I’m going to look at like you like a wolverine. ‘Cause I am a Michigan wolverine and a California grizzly, now when you have those two, you have an El Cucuy. I’m straight up going to put rocks in his face and he’s going to have a hard time to accept that loss, that’s for damn sure.”
The extra time before finally meeting Nurmagomedov has allowed Ferguson to reflect. He says he’s not concerned about the trash talk and showmanship fighters such as Nurmagomedov have used to develop massive followings and is just having fun with his career at this point.
“I think a lot of these fighters when they fight a guy like Khabib, they’re not just fighting Khabib, they’re fighting their following. I mean, how many million followers does he have? You can’t hate on that, this is a sport and a competition. I think we need to clean it up a, little bit, I think the trash talk has gone a little too far in some cases like McGregor, but I can’t speak for anybody else, only thing I can do is speak for myself and really, really work hard and literally do what I do best.”
Ferguson has spent plenty of time bettering himself outside the cage ahead of this fight. He recently built and opened his own facility in California and says he’s studying for his personal trainer certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Ultimately, he always wants to be fighting for something beside himself, setting an example for his son and putting his faith, family and friends first.
“I built my academy with my bare hands, I own my own academy now which is great, I’m in a great facility, I’m in a good spot near the ocean with a good breeze. There’s really no complaints here. During camp, I’ve really had a lot of fun. I’m going for my NASM and going back to school so my kid can actually see me reading a book and doing these things so growing up, he knows fighting is not it. When he hits the bag, I’m like, ‘No, go grab the golf clubs, kid.’
“I fight so he doesn’t have to, that’s the ultimate truth. I do my thing and I’ll get punched in the face, but that’s only if I want to.”