By Timothy Lewis (@TimothyELewis) — April 1st, 2020

How much further down this tunnel must we tumble? What must be done to see Tony Ferguson fight Khabib Nurmagomedov?

Fans around the world are left heartbroken over the recent news that Khabib, locked down in Russia, is unlikely to compete against his long-time rival for the fifth time. But all is not lost. UFC President Dana White continues to throw hope at the wall, and that hope continues to stick for the increasingly desperate followers of the sport.

Hope even remains that Tony Ferguson, one of MMA’s most perplexing, chaotic, and exciting competitors, will still make the walk to the Octagon on April 18th. And should this miracle come to pass, we must be grateful for what is provided. The 36- year- old has not shown any decline in his ability just yet, but we may soon traverse that peak. In recognition that Father Time remains undefeated, it is paramount we appreciate what we have in Tony Ferguson today.

The Profile:

“El Cucuy” stands 5’11” and boasts a goofy 76” reach. His drawn-out, jagged physique is akin to that of a monster lurking in shrouded darkness, an image colorized by the relentless violence he unleashes upon opponents.

There is a narrow ridge between genius and insanity, and Ferguson has decided to file this narrow ridge and tapdance across in a pair of stiletto heels. The Mexican-American assumes a pace few can match, landing nearly 30 significant strikes per round, punishing the head, body, and legs of his opponents with impunity. It’s his endurance that makes Ferguson special. He’s been dropped, rocked, taken down and pummeled, but has never folded. In fact, he’s characterized by his ability to kindle his opponent’s offense, only to drag them into progressively deeper waters. Nobody plays the margins of physical turmoil and attrition with as much glee as the former interim champion.

Ferguson’s last loss came by decision in 2012 to Michael Johnson, who also holds a notable KO victory over current top-5 lightweight Dustin Poirier. The loss was a crossroads for Ferguson, who realized a conventional approach to the sport may not allow him to reach his ceiling. Since that realization, “El Cucuy” is undefeated, converting a pile of contenders into a pile of corpses.

The Method:

After the loss to Johnson, Ferguson has only been out-thrown by opponents twice (Abel Trujillo and Kevin Lee). Why do I point this out? Tony has forged his career the hard way: He takes the toughest men on Earth and makes them quit. There is no better example of this heat-seeking resolve than Ferguson’s return from an LCL tear after just 7 months to defeat iconic striker and former lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis. By constantly out-throwing his opponents, Tony sends a message: I can keep this going.You can’t. What happened in the two fights when Tony threw less than his opponents? He won both by submission. They tried to keep the pace. They couldn’t hang.

The Madness:

So far we have spoken about the pace, the cardio, the mental fortitude, and the striking acumen. But there’s more to the story of how Tony Ferguson has risen in the ranks.

Discarding a conventional approach came at a cost: The unorthodox style of “El Cucuy” has massively expanded his risk profile. We don’t need to concoct a convoluted narrative to understand how. He’s been dropped by Lando Vanatta and Anothony Pettis in two of his last five fights. These are talented competitors, sure. Tony took the former on short notice and the latter several months after major surgery, sure. But the fact remains that neither is ranked in the top-15 of the division today.

Ferguson fights like Two-Face, imperiling himself and his opponents haphazardly, and welcoming the result. While the coin flips have been largely favorable, and Tony’s unique advantages have helped skew outcomes positively, we’ve still seen him fly quite close to the sun. So far he’s come away with singed feathers and a nice tan.

A depiction if Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and melted his wax wings.

However, Tony isn’t simple. He knows he’s aging and that the style he’s implementing isn’t sustainable. While he’s pushed the pace inside the Octagon, Ferguson has slowed the pace outside of it, with just five bouts since 2016. This makes his résumé look unexpectedly weak for a fighter of his ranking and caliber. He has no wins over the division’s current top-5, and the best wins of his career, namely Kevin Lee and Rafael Dos Anjos, have aged poorly. To be frank, most don’t care. We know where Ferguson is in his career, who he is, what he is capable of; we want to see it as many times as we can before it’s over.

Long live “El Cucuy”.

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