Tony Ferguson is the elbow-sharpening, blood-splattering UFC maverick who busts faces up and is itching to hurt Conor McGregor
The life of an MMA journalist can be chaotic at the best of times, but watching an athlete elbow a steel pipe for 15 minutes would cause even the most scrupulous of people to wince.
But that was the situation ESPN’s Brett Okamoto found himself in when speaking to Tony Ferguson two years ago, before his lightweight title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Although the fight fell away – an altogether familiar sequence – the world had gained a valuable insight into the man known as ‘El Cucuy’ (The Boogeyman).
Ahead of the 36-year-old lightweight’s fight against Justin Gaethje for the interim title, president Dana White promised bloodshed and violence, having seen first hand what happens when he steps into the octagon.
A former footballer, baseball player and wrestler, Ferguson’s high school achievements quickly followed him into the real world and the calling of mixed martial arts proved irresistible for the eccentric superstar.
Before he lost to Gaethje and ultimately his shot at Khabib, Ferguson was on a 12-fight win streak, the longest in lightweight history, butchering many of his opponents faces into blood-splattered messes and leaving a trail of destruction behind him in the octagon.
Now Khabib has left, Ferguson and Conor McGregor will no doubt see it as their right to wear the division’s gold around their waists.
Ferguson has attacked McGregor’s perceived lack of courage to face what he considers a ‘top contender’ – him – rather than Dustin Poirier.
The two men have never faced one another, but it would certainly present an entertaining bout.
And, as he prepares to do battle once again – at UFC 256 – what is it really like to face Tony Ferguson and what makes him so vicious in a sport famed for brutality?
Chuck O’Neil (The Ultimate Fighter 13 teammate/opponent)
“There are guys who go out to fight, and it’s like a sport for them,” he told The Athletic.
“But Tony is going out there to genuinely hurt you. And there’s a lot of guys that are like, ‘I’m going to hurt you. I’m going to change your life.’
“But every shot that Tony hits you with has a purpose to hurt you. You just see it in his eyes. He has something different that no one else has. He’s going out there to kill or be killed. And that’s his mindset.
“So it’s very different. He’s not trying to go out there and be buddy-buddy with anybody. There’s that separation that he’s going to put into play before each fight.”
He added: “You just can’t teach what he has, this inner strength that he has to want to kill everyone who’s in front of him.
“That’s where all that creativity comes from. He doesn’t care what you’re going to do. He’s just going to keep moving forward.
“I took a pounding in our fight. My body didn’t want to do anything anymore.”
Jon Anik (UFC Commentator)
“When he fought Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis in 2018, I’ve never had a blood shower like that sitting octagon-side before. We get splattered with blood on my note cards, on my face, on the front of my neck a little bit, on my shirt.
“But never where the blood is spewing over on top of us like a shower. I was getting legitimate dollops of human blood on the back of my shirt.
“And of course it wasn’t Tony Ferguson’s blood, but he had no problem tasting it and fighting through it and winning another fight by style points.
“The UFC keeps all my suits, but I asked if I could keep that shirt and never wash it, and that’s the plan. I still have my suit unwashed from Mark Hunt vs. ‘Bigfoot’ Silva in 2013 in Brisbane because we got a little sprayed there, too.
“But this shirt I’m hoping to frame and do something special with.”
Josh Thompson (lost via UD at UFC San Diego, 2015)
“There were a lot of things I expected from him” he told ESPN. “I expected good cardio, I expected a relentless pace. I expected that push kick.
“I didn’t expect it to have as much power as it had behind it. I thought the push kick — I’ll just block it, catch it a couple times, whatever it may be. I did catch it, but when you catch it, he’s throwing combinations off of it.
“My forearm was swollen from blocking that push kick for probably about two weeks. I couldn’t put my forearm down. You know when you sit at the dinner table and you rest your forearms on the side of the table? Couldn’t do that. It was painful, man.
“I had very, very few cuts in my 32-fight career. I want to say by the end [of the night after fighting Ferguson] I probably had close to 30-something stitches on my face. I had 20 on that big cut on the side of my head that actually dropped me.
“There’s a lot that people can prepare for, but that amount of blood and that amount of cuts, that’s not something most people can handle.”
Yves Edwards (lost via UD at TUF 14 Finale, 2011)
“I have a good check,” he said. “You’re throwing that inside kick, you don’t pick up the leg and turn it over.
“You just roll the ankle over and turn it in like you’re throwing a hook. He throws that kick and I turn my knee over to check it and we go shin to shin.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why the f*** would you do that? That s*** hurts, now we’re both f***** up. But I can’t show you this.’ So I keep fighting. He did that two or three times.”
Lando Vannata (lost via submission at UFC Sioux Falls, 2016)
“It’s his mentality,” Vannata added. “That’s what makes him stand out.
“It makes him train to the point where he’s training harder than anybody else that’s around him and I’m sure 99 per cent of guys in the UFC. He doesn’t get tired and has this unshakable confidence.
“I think Tony is on the same wavelength of delusion of great athletes. They think they’re untouchable, they think they’re the best. They think they’re destined and all that s***.
“It’s really, really good while things are going good. It wins a lot of championships and inspires a lot of confidence. But it’s a world that’s easy to shatter.”