Rivalries: Tony Ferguson

By Brian Knapp Apr 22, 2020

Tony Ferguson confronts every challenge with the same approach: genuine and utter contempt for his opponents. No one can argue with the results.

Whenever the Ultimate Fighting Championship resumes its schedule, Ferguson figures to be front and center in its plans—either through challenging Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed lightweight crown or through a guaranteed barnburner with former World Series of Fighting champion Justin Gaethje. The 36-year-old Californian has rattled off 12 consecutive victories since being outpointed by Michael Johnson in their UFC on Fox 3 encounter on May 5, 2012. Those wins have come against increasingly stout opposition, including Josh Thomson, Rafael dos Anjos and Kevin Lee.

As Ferguson awaits his latest marching orders, a look at three of the rivalries that have numbered his steps along the way:

Ferguson tapped Barboza in the second round. (Photo: Getty)

Edson Barboza

“El Cucuy” submitted Barboza with a second-round brabo choke in a memorable lightweight pairing at “The Ultimate Fighter 22” Finale on Dec. 11, 2015 in Las Vegas. In a battled that showed up on all reputable “Fight of the Year” lists, Barboza conceded defeat 2:54 into Round 2. Two of the UFC’s premier lightweights emptied their respective tool boxes, and it was spellbinding. Ferguson weathered a point deduction for an illegal upkick in a remarkable first round in which the action never stopped. A replacement for the injured Khabib Nurmagomedov, Barboza countered beautifully, fired a number of his lightning-bolt kicks and dodged three rolling kneebar attempts from the Californian. They picked up where they left off in Round 2. There, Ferguson continued to press forward in the face of serious artillery and opened a cut on the Brazilian’s forehead with a standing elbow. Blood poured down Barboza’s face and onto his chest. The onetime Ring of Combat champion shot for an ill-advised takedown and wandered into the choke during the scramble that followed. Once Ferguson’s arms were in place, there was no escape.

Ferguson made Pettis’ corner say no mas. (Photo: Getty)

Anthony Pettis

Six months after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, “El Cucuy” threw all his frustrations and focus into his showdown with Pettis in the UFC 229 co-main event on Oct. 6, 2018 in Las Vegas. A broken hand proved to be Pettis’ undoing following 10 incredible minutes of violence in its purest form, which left both men bathed in blood. Ferguson overwhelmed “Showtime” with crushing pressure, forcing him backward and far away from his comfort zone. Pettis connected with a few leg kicks and buckled his counterpart with an overhand right in the second round, but the success was fleeting. Ferguson opened a cut near the Milwaukee native’s hairline with a sneaky elbow strike that began to paint the canvas and both men red. He later opened another cut next to Pettis’ right eye, pinned him to the fence and unleashed a hellacious barrage of offense—standing elbows, knees, punches and hammerfists all found the mark—that had the Duke Roufus disciple reeling at the base of the fence by the end of Round 2. During the one-minute intermission, Pettis informed his corner that he believed his right hand was broken. Soon after, Roufus made the call to end the fight. Pettis had absorbed 114 significant strikes, more than half of them directed at his head, and Ferguson had climbed yet another rung on the lightweight ladder.

”Cowboy” was no match for Ferguson’s relentless pace. (Photo: Getty)

Donald Cerrone

Ferguson forged a second-round stoppage against Cerrone in their highly anticipated lightweight showdown at UFC 238, where “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 winner cemented himself as the No. 1 contender at 155 pounds on June 8, 2019 in Chicago. Referee Dan Miraglioitta waved it off between the second and third rounds after Cerrone’s damaged right eye had swollen shut. “El Cucuy” was merciless. After a back-and-forth first round, he pushed a pace Cerrone could not keep. Ferguson slammed home one ferocious jab after another in Round 2, clipped “Cowboy” with spinning back elbows and attacked the body with kicks. However, he brought controversy into the equation when he landed a punch after the bell that seemed to stun Cerrone, who absorbed the impact and returned to his corner for the one-minute respite. Unfortunately for all involved, he blew his nose as he prepared for the third round—an ill-advised action that caused his eye to immediately expand to grotesque proportions and necessitated the stoppage. It was Ferguson’s 12th straight win, an all-time record for the UFC lightweight division.
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