Imagine that a fighter in the UFC with an 18-3 overall record, with an 8-1 record inside the octagon, is a former TUF winner, and has never lost consecutive fights in his career. Now imagine that this fighter has never received a title shot. That may not be too hard to imagine seeing how the UFC is stacked with talent and title shots are hard to come by but what if this particular fighter has yet to fight a top 10 ranked opponent? You would say that is crazy right? Well that is the sad truth for Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson but the good news is that he is now scheduled to take on #9 ranked Josh Thomson on July 15th in San Diego.
Ferguson, who is currently ranked #13, has been in the UFC since 2011. He earned his way into the company by winning his season of the Ultimate Fighter. He was a member of Brock Lesnar’s team and even after the show was over, Ferguson was invited to train full time under the “Death Clutch” banner. Lesnar was said to be extremely picky about his training partners so the fact that he invited Ferguson to be a member should have been the first sign that the man’s skills were for real.
There have been so many winners of the Ultimate Fighter that it has been hard to track what every winner from every season has done after winning the show’s competition. In the show’s history only seven former winners have received title shots and only three have actually gone on to wear UFC gold around their waists. Of all the recent TUF winners, Ferguson has remained rather consistent in the UFC. He has not jumped up and down in weight classes and after suffering a decision loss to Michael Johnson back in 2012, he as gone on to win five fights in a row with four stoppages.
Since the lost to Johnson, Ferguson has passed every test the UFC has put in front of him proving that his skill set is evolving and that he is getting better as a fighter. Ferguson has been clamoring for a top 10 ranked opponent for a while now and in Thomson he will get a firm test. Thomson is a true veteran of the sport and has been in countless battles and has fought for titles on several occasions.
It is interesting that the UFC matched up Ferguson with the #9 ranked fighter as if they are saying, “Well you wanted a top 10 guy right? We will give you a guy right on the edge of rakings.” You can read this in two ways. Maybe the UFC does not think much of Ferguson and does not think he will crack the top 10 and is not worth putting him up against the likes of a Gilbert Melendez, Benson Henderson, Myles Jury, or a Edson Barboza. Or maybe the UFC really likes Ferguson and wants to develop him at their pace.
Ferguson is of Mexican heritage and is very proud of it. Even his nickname, “El Cucuy”, is folklore of Mexican culture basically being the equivalent of the Boogieman. It is no secret that the UFC is desperate to gain control of the Mexican fight fans. Boxing has always had a strong hold in that demographic due to the high volume of fighters coming out of Mexico and of American born fighters with Mexican heritage. The UFC is making its second trip to Mexico in less than a year with Cain Velasquez headlining the event this upcoming June. If the UFC wants to continue to make trips across the border or even have several more events in the States where there is a strong demo of Mexican-Americans and steal some fans away from boxing they need to start pushing the Mexican stars they have now.
The UFC has shown patience with Erick Perez, who is the only Mexican born fighter on the roster, as they see his value down the line. Maybe that was their plan all along for Tony Ferguson? There is not coincidence that this fight with Thomson, the biggest of Ferguson’s career will take place in San Diego, which is right on the border of Mexico and has a strong Mexican demographic. This has the potential to be Ferguson’s coming out party. The time is now for Ferguson to show the world that he belongs in the top 10 of the UFC’s most competitive division. If Ferguson continues his climb then it would have been a slow one but current lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos also had a slow climb to the top and look at him now.