Tony Ferguson
Copyright: 2019 Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Tony Ferguson — aka Anthony Armand Ferguson Padilla — is the boogeyman of the UFC lightweight division, having been called one of the best fighters at 155 pounds. Ferguson is known for his incredible endurance and willpower in the octagon, along with the ability to break his opponents mentally. He has power in his hands and his elbows, and he’s a legitimate Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Eddie Bravo of 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu.

UFC commentator and podcaster Joe Rogan said on The Joe Rogan Experience that Tony Ferguson’s opponents looked as if they had fallen off a train after fighting him, describing Ferguson as a brilliant weirdo because of his unorthodox fighting style and unconventional training regimen.

At 155 pounds, Tony Ferguson proved to the world that he was the most skilled and feared fighter, clearing out the lightweight division in devastating fashion. Over six years, he won 12 straight fights on his way to a second interim title shot against Justin Gaethje.

Tony Ferguson was undoubtedly the next big thing in the lightweight division and in line for a title shot against Black Belt Hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov if he defeated Gaethje. Then tragedy struck. He lost three fights in a row — and all credibility as the next UFC superstar.

During their interim-title bout, Gaethje put on a show for the ages, handing Ferguson the worst beating of his career. For the first time, he suffered so much damage that his body simply could not take anymore and quit on him.

In his next two fights, he didn’t fare any better. He was outclassed by No. 3-ranked Beneil Dariush and current lightweight champ Charles Oliveira.

After three losses in a row, fans want to know what the heck is wrong with Tony Ferguson. Let’s break it down.

Ferguson’s epic winning streak and sudden fall are not uncommon in MMA. Look at Fedor Emelianenko and Anderson Silva. For years, they destroyed everyone in front of them, and then — bang! — it was all over. The skills that made them special were gone.

Unfortunately, this is part of the sport’s usual trend. An older generation gives way to a younger, more evolved one. You might call it a passing of the guard.

While we cannot know whether that is the case with Tony Ferguson, it is interesting to note that his last three losses were all to fighters in their early 30s.

It is easy to agree that Ferguson’s fighting style and the way he beat those 12 opponents before losing to Gaethje can be attributed to his heart, cardio and toughness. He’s known as someone who is willing to die in the octagon. As a result, he was able to walk down opponents almost zombie-like until they succumbed to his pressure.

During his fights, Ferguson was not always the better striker or the better grappler. Despite being virtually stopped in those matches, he kept walking forward, outfighting his opponents rather than using his skills.

For example, Ferguson was dropped in the Anthony Pettis fight, but his toughness overwhelmed Pettis and secured the victory. So was he a different fighter two years later when he fought Justin Gaethje? The answer is no. He simply ran into a fighter who is as tough as, if not tougher than, he is. As it turned out, Gaethje had the toughness and cardio to withstand Ferguson’s pressure and the power to beat Ferguson’s body into submission even though his mind was still willing to fight.

Following that defeat came a loss to current champion Charles Oliveira, a better striker who holds the record for most submissions in UFC lightweight history.

Oliveira developed a blueprint for defeating Ferguson during that fight: He knew that the most effective way to win was to force Ferguson into positions on the ground in which he was uncomfortable, then control the action from there.

Beneil Dariush used the same technique as he defeated Ferguson via unanimous decision, giving him his third loss in a row. Those three back-to-back losses made fans question Ferguson’s abilities.

Has he gotten out of shape and slowed down with age? Or have other fighters discovered a weakness in his game that he has yet to correct? While these questions are reasonable, they cannot be answered without seeing him in the octagon again.

With this in mind, what can we expect to see in the next rumored fight against Michael Chandler? Both are great wrestlers, but I would give the edge to Chandler in that department. He will be able to take Ferguson down at will and control him, similar to Kevin Lee.

That doesn’t mean Ferguson can’t win, though. He can rely on his BJJ, which makes him particularly dangerous working off his back. Kevin Lee was the superior wrestler in their fight, yet he still got caught in a triangle choke.

Chandler is a very tough fighter who hits hard — in that respect, he’s similar to Justin Gaethje — and we saw how that kind of power broke Ferguson, despite his legendary toughness. I believe the match will come down to Ferguson’s ability to incorporate more head movement to make Chandler miss while using his unorthodox fighting style to keep him guessing.

Both fighters have something to prove because they are coming off losses. But another loss for Ferguson could be a career-ender in the UFC. If the contract gets signed, we’ll be in for a crazy fight that could be over in the first two rounds. For the winner, the goal is to get that second chance against reigning champion Charles Oliveira.

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