Last year, after his brutal knockout defeat to Bellator transplant Michael Chandler at UFC 274, we called for Tony Ferguson to retire — and some of you actually thought otherwise.
Today, in the wake of what is now a disastrous six-fight losing streak, which was furthered by unranked journeyman Bobby Green at this past weekend’s UFC 291: Dustin Poirier vs Justin Gaethje, we’re doubling down out of genuine concern for a man who has given the fans everything.
Tony, it’s time to hang up the gloves.
The tale of Tony Ferguson has always been one of tragedy: a phenomenal combat sports talent who came within inches of claiming the UFC’s lightweight throne only to have the interim honour unceremoniously stripped from him due to injury (and later losing it in a more savage fashion at UFC 249).
Under any other circumstance, the 12-fight win streak he accomplished between 2013 and 2019 would have earned him all the glory within this cutthroat division of the UFC. Instead, he was fed to a new generation of hungry lions — recently-crowned BMF titleholder Justin Gaethje, future lightweight champion Charles Oliveira, the aforementioned Chandler — and publicly executed on numerous occasions for pay-per-view buys.
I could sit here and wax poetic about El Cucuy’s finest moments across 34 hard-fought bouts until the cows came home. I could even lament the thrice-cancelled face-off that never was between him and the undefeated great Khabib Nurmagomedov. That would, however, be navigating away from the main point.
No one is disputing the 39-year-old icon’s exploits. Everyone knows they were legendary. They are legendary. But if the last six fights are any indication, it’s that the conversation needs to change.
This is no longer a matter of pride and certainly not a matter of holding onto any Hollywood-esque delusions involving a comeback fuelled by decades of Rocky instalments and the memory of who Tony Ferguson used to be. This is a matter of reality; of a professional athlete’s declining health in the face of increasingly elite competition.
The turning point, of course, occurred three years prior at UFC 249, wherein Tony Ferguson came to blows with the notoriously heavy-handed Gaethje for the interim UFC lightweight title on short notice.
For five gruelling, difficult-to-watch rounds, Ferguson would absorb an inhuman amount of punishment, punch drunk and slipping in/out of consciousness. His power shots were cutting air while his Gaethje’s cut to the chase, more and more from the latter going by unanswered as time went on.
With roughly a minute and 20 seconds left on the clock, referee Herb Dean stopped what had long ceased to be entertainment and began to resemble a live snuff film taping.
There are some losses that you just don’t recover from. Chuck Liddell had Quentin Jackson. Anderson Silva had Chris Weidman (back-to-back). Chris Weidman had Luke Rockhold. And Justin Gaethje was, without a doubt, the undoing of Tony Ferguson.
Ferguson would continue to showcase physical signs of a damaged body and brain in his next two fights against Oliveira at UFC 256 first, then #4 ranked division contender Beneil Dariush at UFC 262 second.
With a noticeable decrease in athleticism and the unorthodox flair which previously gave him an edge over his opponents, Oliveira and Dariush would expose something else: a disturbing lack of sound fundamentals. Taken to the ground, he surrendered control for the majority of both fights and appeared helpless beyond belief.
But Tony Ferguson simply wouldn’t be Tony Ferguson if he had even a single iota of quit in his DNA (or chose to retire after a trio of consecutive losses). So battered, bruised, and bloody, he saddled up against a former three-time Bellator champion only to kiss canvas during the early seconds of Round 2.
OH…MY…GOODNESS! One of the best KOs I’ve seen in a while, KO of the year contender too.— The Best Pinned Tweet! (@MrHemJ) May 8, 2022
Micheal Chandler Knocks Tony Ferguson OUT COLD with a front kick to the face!!! Wow. #UFC274 pic.twitter.com/VA0DXsdKUL
Feet frozen in separate directions.
Out cold for a full minute.
Many (present company included) assumed the worst when the broadcast refused to replay the moment until they could indeed confirm he was still with us. Even if you know nothing about combat sports, you instinctively know it doesn’t get any more grim than this.
In the 14 months since that bout — and since an earlier iteration of this article was published — Ferguson has been submitted by both the outgoing Nate Diaz at UFC 279 to punctuate an anaemic four-round performance and, as outlined above, Bobby Green.
What’s even more disturbing was Tony Ferguson’s wildly misguided assertions that he’s only approaching the peak of his career in the lead-up to facing Green.
“I feel at this point in time in my life, I’m barely hitting my prime, which is crazy,” he told reporters during the UFC 291 media day (via MMA Junkie).
“I’m shocked. I’m really shocked. I’m just as sharp as I look, baby.”
“Nobody else is going to tell me [to retire]. They can propose or say, ‘Oh, Tony. Whatever. He’s going to retire.’ No, motherf***ers. F**k you. I’m going to be done when I want to be done.”
“But I’m also going to have to do what I have to do to get to where I want to get. Five fights and a title, baby.”
We’ve said it once and will say it again: you can beat all the top 155-pounders in the world but Father Time remains undefeated. The Boogeyman is simply no more.