Tony Ferguson: The Beginning of the End?

Tony Ferguson: The Beginning of the End?

In the co-main event of UFC 256, Tony Ferguson made his return to the Octagon against Charles Oliveira. On paper, the bout looked to be a risky one for El Cucuy to take, and that proved to be the case. Throughout the highly-anticipated lightweight contest, Oliveira dominated the former 155-pound interim champion. Although Ferguson is no stranger to adversity, his unbreakable persona undoubtedly took a hit in 2020. So, let’s take a look at where Ferguson goes from here following his unanimous decision defeat to Do Bronx.   

Back-to-back Defeats 

Upon reviewing Ferguson’s professional record in the UFC, few can argue that he hasn’t been one of the most entertaining fighters of the past decade. After a split-decision loss to Michael Johnson at UFC on Fox: 3 Diaz vs. Miller back in May 2012, El Cucuy went on a 12-fight winning streak. During this period, California-born fighter beat the likes of Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, Edson Barboza, and Rafael dos Anjos. His unprecedented run of consecutive victories is the second-best in the history of the lightweight division, behind only Khabib Nurmagomedov, who currently boasts a 13-bout streak, as per Fight Matrix. 

At UFC 249: Ferguson suffered a fifth-round stoppage defeat to Justin Gaethje in what proved to be a one-sided beatdown. During the contest, the Highlight landed 69 percent of his significant strikes to El Cucuy’s head. In total, Gaethje connected with 100 significant headshots throughout the bout, according to UFC Stats. Unfortunately, the damage taken at UFC 249 appeared to have lasting effects, with Ferguson looking well below his best against Oliveira in his follow-up fight. Prior to 2020, the 36-year-old had never experienced back-to-back defeats in his MMA career. 

Where Does El Cucuy Go from Here? 

It’s fair to say that Ferguson has developed a reputation for being one of the promotion’s most well-rounded competitors. That said, his versatility and technical capabilities didn’t shine through against Do Bronx, who dominated their fight both on the feet and on the mat. To El Cucuy’s credit, he did avoid tapping to a potentially-devastating armbar at the end of round one. In light of Ferguson’s defeat, Dana White detailed his surprise as he believed that this bout would see El Cucuy return to his best. Moreover, the UFC’s president also accepted that the Californian may now be past his prime.   

Currently, the 155-pound division contains numerous elite-level competitors. While Nurmagomedov’s future remains unclear, the weight class still features Conor McGregor, Dan Hooker, dos Anjos, Dustin Poirier, Gaethje, Michael Chandler, Oliveira, Paul Felder, and many more. As such, Ferguson’s path to the belt is arguably trickier than ever before.   

Potentially, El Cucuy could target the loser of the upcoming fight between McGregor and Poirier on January 23rd. Currently, the Notorious is the –225 favorite to win the rematch with MMA betting, as of December 14th. However, off the back of two consecutive defeats, the division’s top contenders may no longer view El Cucuy as an attractive fight. 

Could This Be the End? 

Of course, it would be unwise to write off Ferguson. That said, his recent decline has to be acknowledged. For the best part of a decade, the 36-year-old has been involved in wars, and perhaps that’s now starting to catch up with him. The sport of MMA needs an aggressive, fight-winning El Cucuy, but that’s no longer an inevitability.