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Tony Ferguson finds himself at a crossroads.
The longtime Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight contender will look to snap a two-fight losing streak when he meets Beneil Dariush in the UFC 262 co-main event on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston. Ferguson, 37, has compiled a stellar 15-3 record since he joined the UFC roster a little less than 10 years ago. He last appeared at UFC 256 in December, when he dropped a lopsided unanimous decision to Charles Oliveira. “El Cucuy” has secured 20 of his 25 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
As Ferguson prepares for his pivotal showdown with Dariush, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Better Man
Michael Johnson took a brilliant strategic route against Ferguson and defeated “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 winner by unanimous decision in a UFC on Fox 3 lightweight showcase on May 5, 2012 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. All three judges scored it the same: 30-27 for Johnson. “The Menace” set the tone midway through Round 1, as he momentarily stunned and dropped Ferguson with a stiff left hand. It was a harbinger of what was to come. Johnson attacked his counterpart’s arms, body and legs with blinding kicks and backed them up with one left hand after another, repeatedly snapping back Ferguson’s head. “El Cucuy” never found himself, overwhelmed by Johnson’s speed, aggression and firepower. He entered the cage on a six-fight winning streak and left it with stalled momentum, beaten for the first time under the UFC banner.
Ferguson submitted Edson Barboza with a second-round brabo choke in a memorable lightweight showdown that made the rounds on “Fight of the Year” lists. A replacement for the injured Khabib Nurmagomedov, Barboza conceded defeat 2:54 into Round 2 of their battle at “The Ultimate Fighter 22” Finale on Dec. 11, 2015 at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Two of the UFC’s premier lightweights emptied their respective tool boxes, and it was spellbinding. Ferguson weathered a point deduction for an illegal upkick in a remarkable first-round in which the action never stopped. Barboza countered beautifully, fired a number of his lightning-bolt kicks and dodged three rolling kneebar attempts from the Californian. They picked up where they left off in Round 2. There, Ferguson continued to press forward in the face of serious artillery and opened a cut on the Brazilian’s forehead with a standing elbow. Blood poured down Barboza’s face and onto his chest. The onetime Ring of Combat champion shot for an ill-advised takedown and wandered into the choke during the scramble that followed. Once Ferguson’s arms were in place, there was no escape.
3. Golden Touch
“El Cucuy” laid claim to the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight crown when he submitted Kevin Lee with a triangle choke in the third round of their UFC 216 main event on Oct. 7, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Lee capitulated 4:02 into Round 3, his five-fight winning streak having run its course. “The Motown Phenom” pushed Ferguson to the limit in the first round, where he delivered a takedown, climbed to mount and unleashed a torrent of punches and elbows. The barrage might have finished a lesser man. Ferguson shrugged. Lee’s pace slowed noticeably in the second, and he continued to deteriorate physically in the third. There, he executed two takedowns but lacked the energy to consolidate them with damage. Ferguson nearly tapped him with an armbar before catching the triangle and eliciting the tapout.
4. Wrong Side of the Highlight Reel
Gaethje in a career-defining performance laid claim to the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title, as he disposed of Ferguson with punches in the fifth round of their UFC 249 headliner on May 9, 2020 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Referee Herb Dean called for the stoppage 3:39 into Round 5, closing the book on Ferguson’s record-setting 12-fight winning streak at 155 pounds. Gaethje was magnificent from start to finish. The Trevor Wittman protégé swung for the fences at times but did not overextend himself to the point of exhaustion. He tore into Ferguson with repeated leg kicks and power punches from both hands, maintained his composure and went about breaking down one of the toughest men in the business. Gaethje connected on a remarkable 72 percent (143-for-197) of his significant strikes against “El Cucuy,” as he handed “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 winner his first loss since May 5, 2012.
The MMA world has witnessed a true metamorphosis with Oliveira—a development that was never clearer than on Dec. 12, 2020 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Viewed by many as a failed prospect after he lost four times in six appearances between Aug. 23, 2015 and Dec. 2, 2017, the Brazilian instead rebounded with eight consecutive victories and surfaced as an unlikely but legitimate title contender at 155 pounds. “Do Bronx” authored the latest and most compelling chapter of his comeback story at UFC 256, where he thoroughly outclassed Ferguson to a unanimous decision in the co-main event on Dec. 12, 2020 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. All three judges scored it 30-26 for Oliveira, who outlanded Ferguson by an 86-26 margin, converted all three of his takedowns and attempted three submissions, including a first-round armbar that resulted in a near-finish. Outside of a defensive elbow strike that resulted in a cut on the Brazilian’s left eyebrow, Ferguson was a non-factor, leaving some to openly question whether or not “El Cucuy” had peaked.