On April 16, 2016, the UFC will make its first trip to Tampa, Fla., since February 2009. To put that into perspective, that previous card featured Joe Lauzon and Jeremy Stephens in the main event, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson as a welterweight, and rising star and later former champion Cain Velasquez in search of his third UFC win. The MMA landscape has changed significantly since then. Now, after seven years and four more Florida trips — two to Orlando and two to South Florida — the UFC has made its way back. In the main event, Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson was to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov. The real focus seemed to be on whether Nurmagomedov could stay healthy after he had pulled out of his last three bouts.
“I’m a professional. Things happen. Shit happens,” Ferguson told Combat Press. “If Khabib pulls out, I’m sure [Donald] Cerrone will step in. I don’t see [Anthony] Pettis signing up on the dotted line anytime soon. I don’t see Eddie Alvarez signing up on the dotted line anytime soon. Conor [McGregor] isn’t even signing up on the dotted line soon. So we’ll hope and pray and say an extra one for Mr. Khabib that he can make it up them stairs and he can make that weight and not go to the emergency room because he can’t use IV. So it’s going to be interesting to see.”
On April 5, an interesting thing happened. In an ironic twist, it was Ferguson, not Nurmagomedov, who was forced to withdraw from the scheduled bout. Ferguson suffered what is being called a “freak” lung injury. Many fighters, including the aforementioned Cerrone, Pettis and even current lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos campaigned for a shot at Nurmagomedov. Meanwhile, Ferguson asked Nurmagomedov to wait until May 29 just for the chance to keep the fight.
In an even more surprising twist to the story, none of these fighters were given the shot. It was instead given to current Cage Fury Fighting Championships lightweight champion Darrell Horcher, who carries a 12-1 record and will be making his UFC debut against a top-five UFC lightweight.
With all the waves recently that have been made in the UFC with Conor McGregor, a lot of focus has been shifted off of a good deal of the UFC roster. Ferguson is one of those guys. He has had the most successful winning record of any The Ultimate Fighter winner to date. In fact, Ferguson has only tasted defeat once, when he took on Michael Johnson. That was in 2012. Since then, Ferguson has defeated notables Mike Rio, Danny Castillo, Abel Trujillo, Gleison Tibau, Josh Thomson and Edson Barboza, just to name a few. In the wake of everything going on around him, Ferguson has made sure not to have any outside distractions.
“This is my profession,” said Ferguson. “This is my career, so I have to take everything into perspective. I’m a professional. I’m not going to worry about Conor, because obviously he’s not my fight at hand. Will he be in the future? If the little bitch wants to fight, then yeah, because I’m Mexican and he’s Irish.
“I like to go to toe-to-toe, and I bet I could knock his ass out. This is mixed martial arts and he’s going to have to realize that pretty soon. That master of movement looks like a turtle on his back and he can’t fight worth a shit like a ninja turtle. I see this as a turtle race. All these dudes are rushing to the top… Silly rabbits… Trix are for kids. This is a turtle race, and that’s what Tony Ferguson is doing. That’s what El Cucuy is all about. My squad, my team, all my focus with these guys [at Tiger’s World Tampa]. These are the future, man.”
Even with the busy schedule that accompanies a fighter, Ferguson was able to implement some wisdom on some young up-and-coming fighters such as Aalon Cruz and Devin Rodriguez, along with current UFC flyweight Geane Carlos Herrera.
“I’m looking at these guys like they are my compadres. Like they are my teammates. I have to,” said Ferguson. “If I’m their mentor and they want to look at me like that, that’s cool, because I have to go out there and kick ass and I have to perform. So if I can come in here and I can get swept by these guys [be]cause these [are] young champions, that’s badass because that makes me tough too, because it’s not always about training with the best. Growing up, I didn’t have the best. I had to make [due with] what we had and make ends meet. I’m hungry, man.
“People see me, dude. They’re just not talking. And I don’t care. If I’m fighting for the money, then I’m in it for the wrong reason. I’m going to change sports real quick. I fight just because I love it. It’s my passion. I don’t care what Jay and Silent Bob or whatever the hell they want to say on Twitter. They’re going to watch me regardless of whether they like me or not. And if I have followers or not, it doesn’t matter [be]cause I didn’t get into this sport for fucking Twitter or Instagram. I got into this sport to kick ass, my friend, and I’m doing quite well. My stock is up. I’m here to stay.”