UFC 238: Profiling The Illustrious ‘El Cucuy’

Only a handful of top UFC stars offer as much excitement come fight night as former interim UFC lightweight champion, Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson. The Orange Country resident stands out in an as deep as ever 155-pound division, as the most captivating, most risk-taking and most game fighter the roster has to offer. A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under the tutelage of the renowned Eddie Bravo, the man known as ‘El Cucuy’, is one of the most creative strikers in Octagon history, despite his natural grappling prowess. Ferguson brings an almost unbearable pace to his matches, a volume reminiscent of Nick Diaz, and in my opinion, an unparalleled resilience.

Just six months after a catastrophic 2018 knee injury in which Ferguson suffered a detached LCL, the 35-year-old was back in business. In Ferguson’s last Octagon walk against Anthony Pettis, at UFC 229, the 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu member displayed that previously mentioned resilience to rally from a second-round knockdown and survive.  The Ultimate Fighter victor has always been seen as a hittable opponent due to his forward pressure and the somewhat reckless and the wild striking exchanges he creates but managed to keep his wits about him against ‘Showtime’, after a promising first round. For the most part of the second period, Ferguson had almost pinned Pettis to the Octagon fence with unbelievable pressure, stepping in with slashing elbows and that patented long jab from either southpaw or orthodox. In one of the many exchanges, Pettis suffered a broken right hand, and was visibly taking a lot of punishment, leading to head coach Duke Roufus’ decision to stop the fight before the third round claxon.

Saturday night marks eight months since Tony Ferguson last stepped foot into the Octagon, with some really unfortunate personal issues brought to the spotlight. ‘El Cucuy’ has since been medically cleared by both his physician and UFC doctors, allowing him to return in a main card clash with a fellow top lightweight contender and fan favorite, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. Below, I break down the incredible career of Tony Ferguson, including his astonishing eleven fight win streak.

The Ultimate Fighter 13 Triumph

After impressing on the regional scene, including a stoppage win of Kickboxing star Joe Schilling, Ferguson received an opportunity to compete on the thirteenth installment of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Lesnar vs. Team dos Santos. After joining up with Brock Lesnar’s team, Ferguson secured three consecutive finishes to book his spot in the finale. A rare upkick finish over Justin Edwards, followed by two straight knockout wins over Ryan McGillivray and Chuck O’ Neill earned Ferguson a June 4th date with Ramsey Nijem. In what claimed him Knockout of the Night honors, Ferguson stopped Nijem via a one-punch knockout to win the tournament at Welterweight, a weight he has yet to return to since his near decade previous escapades.

Two expeditious bouts against Aaron Riley and the extremely well rounded Yves Edwards, brought the curtain down on a successful 2011 for ‘El Cucuy’. So far, Ferguson’s only Octagon blemish has come against recent featherweight mover Michael Johnson, losing via unanimous decision to the brisk boxer. Since his 2012 loss to ‘The Menace’, Ferguson has established an incredible eleven fight win streak at lightweight, matched only by division kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The Untouchables

As previously mentioned, both Ferguson and Khabib have dispatched eleven opponents on their current tears, but after failing to meet on a staggering four separate occasions, the opportunity for both men to find themselves finally standing across an Octagon from each other becomes a serious possibility come this weekend. Despite Nurmagomedov’s sambo expertise, Ferguson has been suggested as the Dagestani’s kryptonite, a given when considering his offensive grappling.

After Ferguson’s triangle triumph over Kevin Lee to claim the Interim title, a unification match up with ‘The Eagle’ seemed inevitable. Booked for the main event of UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York, Khabib and Ferguson were mere days away from eventually clashing. On April’s Fools day, UFC President Dana White issued a rather skeptical announcement, claiming Ferguson had suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw from his meeting with Nurmagomedov, and had subsequently been replaced by 145-pound gold holder Max Holloway.

It later transpired via Ferguson’s grappling coach Eddie Bravo, that while carrying out media obligations for the promotion, Tony had tripped on a monitor cable, completely tearing his lateral collateral ligament from his knee. Controversially, White openly criticized Ferguson for wearing sunglasses during the incident, obstructing his vision. Months later, Ferguson told how he had in fact been wearing prescription glasses. Tony Ferguson’s path to that April 7th meeting, has arguably been the most difficult in division antiquity.

The Run

Let’s go back to 2012, after Ferguson’s only promotion loss to Michael Johnson. Ferguson was tasked with overcoming Mike Rio, securing the first of a now signature D’arce submission in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. We were also treated to Ferguson’s improving boxing skills when pitted against Katsunori Kikuno. Significantly hurting Kikuno for the majority of the opening round, Ferguson finally dropped the Japan native with mere seconds remaining. ‘El Cucuy{s}’ first real test came against Team Alpha MMA member Danny Castillo, with his Californian compatriot pushing Ferguson to a narrow split decision display. Accomplished NAIA wrestler Abel Trujillo was comfortably stopped by Ferguson as he extended his win streak to four, and then five with a rear- naked choke win over ‘Killa’ and then Gleison Tibau later that year.

The biggest test for Ferguson in his stirring run came against Josh Thompson. Often regarded as the consensus best lightweight in the promotion before the introduction of the division, Thompson joined Danny Castillo in taking Tony the distance over three rounds. In what earned him both Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night accolades, Ferguson battled in a bloodied back and forth with Brazilian Muay Thai expert Edson Barboza, submitting the striker via a D’arce after a breathtaking, fast-paced first round.

Suffering somewhat of a scare against late replacement and promotional debutante Lando Vannata, Ferguson was dropped in the opening round on multiple occasions, before securing a second straight D’arce midway through the second round, forcing the tap. Producing a steely performance when paired with former lightweight best Rafael dos Anjos, ‘El Cucuy’ stuck behind a beautiful jab and lit the Brazilian up throughout some exchanges, earning his biggest career scalp to date over five dominant rounds.

Interim Gold

The narrative ahead of Ferguson vs. Lee at UFC 216, was the brash attitude from ‘The Mo’Town Phenom’. A confident Ferguson insisted his experience, ability and overall “level” would be enough to carry him over the line against the surging wrestler Lee. Making his twelfth Octagon walk that night, Lee entered the cage with a worrying blotch on his left pectoral muscle. Despite hesitation from the UFC truck, broadcast partners Joe Rogan and heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier pointed out the bacterial infection, Staphylococcus aureus. A clearly compromised Lee made a wonderful start, winning some important exchanges and landing takedowns. Lee from a stacked guard, landed some damaging strikes to Ferguson, before his gas tank was severely diminished in the later rounds. In a third round scramble, Ferguson landed a triangle courtesy of his difficult to maneuver guard, eventually drawing the tap from the then 24-year-old.

Saturday night at the United Centre in Chicago, Illinois, offers Ferguson another opportunity to earn a well overdue undisputed title tilt against the eventual winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier’s unification bout, but a clash against a reinvigorated Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone presents a difficult turnaround after an eight-month hiatus.