Tony Ferguson, once the bogeyman of the talent stacked lightweight division, suffered a picture-perfect front kick KO at UFC 274 against the former Bellator lightweight champion, Michael Chandler. Now on a four-fight losing streak to the division’s best what’s next for Tony Ferguson, and is this the end of El Cucuy?
What’s Next for Tony Ferguson after Devastating UFC 274 Loss?
UFC 274: El Cucuy’s Second KO/TKO Loss
Since the announcement of Tony Ferguson vs Michael Chandler, many began to speculate whether the once feared El Cucuy was up to the task of facing the division’s most explosive fighter. Once on an outstanding 12-fight win streak, Tony Ferguson looked to get back to winning ways, despite the MMA communities apprehension about his much-awaited return to the Octagon.
With the stage set, both men looked excited and ready for battle, as the Phoenix crowd waited in frenzied anticipation of what was sure to be the fight of the night. The first round opened to both men firing pot-shots and two-strike combinations, with neither man having a huge success early on. It was until Ferguson opened up with a 1-2 combination that tagged Chandler at full extension, hurting the muscle shark, who stumbled back towards the fence. Tony looked like his old self, maintaining his brutal pressure on the staggered Chandler. The NCAA Division 1 wrestler suddenly changed levels to bring the fight to the ground, landing in full guard. Ferguson landed his trademark strikes off his back, to combat Chandler’s stifling top control. The round ended with both men undeterred by each other’s success and excited to enter the second round.
With Round 2 commenced, both fighters circled the Octagon waiting for the perfect opportunity. That opportunity came for former Bellator Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler who landed an un-telegraphed front kick, shutting down El Cucuy in a frightening fashion. The crowd stood in awe as Ferguson lay stiff on the canvas. While this event broke Michael Chandler’s losing streak, it prompted the question: What’s next for Tony Ferguson?
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You will not be done with the game, the game will be done with you. A true statement for those fighters that hang on to the ‘game’ too long. Unfortunately, Ferguson is a fighter’s fighter, a man who has tackled this sport with unrelenting ferocity. Tony Ferguson is the type of guy to keep going, regardless of the onslaught he faces, a point proven when he fought Justin Gaethje.
Tony Ferguson has simply taken too much damage. His wars with the aforementioned Justin Gaethje, Anthony Pettis, and Lando Vannata to name a few, have been bloody battles of attrition, ones that he is normally on the winning side of. His iron chin and smothering, unorthodox pressure have made him a fan favorite. However, this style, although exciting, does not have the longevity required for him to maintain effectiveness.
Another reason for suggesting retirement when answering the question of Tony Ferguson’s future is his chin. Bar Justin Gaethje’s TKO win over Ferguson, his other two losses to Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush were relatively low damage affairs. However, his violent KO loss to Michael Chandler may be the nail in the chest in terms of Ferguson’s durability. His potentially diminished chin would further reduce his already low chances of climbing up the ladder for a title shot in the latter stage of his career.
If Ferguson decided to hang up the gloves, he would still be considered one of the greatest lightweights of all time, and a true legend of the sport.
Kiwi striker Dan Hooker is another tough-as-nails fighter, also looking to break his losing streak. After an unsuccessful stint at featherweight against the well-rounded British contender Arnold Allen, Hooker has suggested a move back up to 155. Hooker is currently #13 in the lightweight rankings, so while Ferguson would be punching down in terms of position within the division, a win over Hooker would get him back on his feet against a meaningful opponent.
The top-15 of the lightweight division is murder’s row, and it would be a huge shame to see Ferguson used as a stepping stone for upcoming killers like Arman Tsarukyan and Mateusz Gamrot. Therefore, a fight with a well-established veteran like Dan Hooker could be just what Tony Ferguson needs.
Stylistically speaking, the fight would be fun. Hooker’s knee-heavy, clinching, and ranged attacks, versus Ferguson’s dogged pressure and slicing elbows would make for a violent spectacle; one the fans expect from both fighters.
Nate Diaz at Welterweight
A bout with one of Stockton’s favorite sons, Nate Diaz could be what’s next for Tony Ferguson. At this stage in Ferguson’s career, it should be either retirement or fun fights going forward. Not only would Nate Diaz provide an exciting, back-and-forth battle between two of the company’s most well-known names, but would allow Tony to move up in weight.
This fight would be the perfect dip in the waters, against the tough, albeit undersized welterweight in Nate Diaz. It would give Ferguson the chance to avoid the heavy hitters that could potentially welcome him to the division while taking out the stress of a tough weight cut. Plus there are plenty of legendary matchups between Ferguson and other fighters in a similar situation. Guys like Robbie Lawler, Matt Brown, and…
Nick Diaz at Welterweight
Stockton’s other favorite son Nick Diaz may be the perfect next step in Tony Ferguson’s career. Much like his brother Nate, Nick is not a particularly heavy-handed fighter and has the same toughness as Tony. Again, a change of pace at welterweight could be what Tony Ferguson needs to reinvent himself if he wants to continue competing.
Both Nick and Nate Diaz possess limitless cardio and volume heavy boxing, along with some high-level BJJ. This mirrors Tony Ferguson’s style to push the pace and grind down his opponents with his varied and unusual arsenal. A bout between El Cucuy and either Diaz brother could make for some interesting engagements in the Octagon. Nick Diaz is notably bigger than Tony, so targeting Nate may be the better option.
The only stumbling block that Nick Diaz might provide is his dedication to the sport. In his comeback fight against Robbie Lawler in 2021, Nick Diaz came into fight week heavy, forcing the promotion (with Lawler’s approval) to change the bout to a middleweight clash instead. Nick shook off some cobwebs during the fight, even looking good in some exchanges. However, Nick’s 6-year layoff came into play, as Robbie Lawler started to take over the fight. Uncharacteristically, Nick Diaz retired during the third round, which led many to believe he was finished with the sport.
It was only until rumors of talks between Dana White and Nick Diaz had surfaced, that people began to speculate who Diaz would return against. If Ferguson made the jump to welterweight, this may be the fight to make.
Is Tony Ferguson Done?
Yes and No. Ferguson is done chasing the belt against the best of the lightweight division. He looked good in the first round against Chandler, hinting that Tony still has it in him to compete at a relatively high level. However, it should be against other aging legends, either at lightweight or preferably welterweight.
If he is unwilling to take a renewed look at his career, he will either be used to build young fighters’ names or be forced into retirement by the company after further losses which would be a sad day for MMA fans.