With all the buzz surrounding the main card at UFC 173 this weekend, it’s easy to forget the potential for fireworks in the talent-rich preliminary broadcast on FOX Sports 1. Before TUF alum TJ Dillashaw challenges the dominant champion Renan Barão for the bantamweight strap live on PPV, another prospect produced by The Ultimate Fighter series is also aiming to shine on Saturday night and take another step towards stardom. Of course, that prospect is none other than ‘El’ Cucuy” himself, Tony Ferguson.
Ferguson, who was the victor of the TUF 13 tournament, is set to clash with former DEEP lightweight champ Katsunori Kikuno live on FS1. Following an impressive win over Mike Rio at UFC 166 that earned him Submission of the Night honors, Ferguson looks to continue climbing the lightweight ranks and build momentum towards a shot at the title. From the sound of things, Tony is ready to steal the show.
ProMMANow was given the chance to catch up with “El’ Cucuy” and let’s just say, this man lacks no motivation.
Questions from ProMMA’s Kinch in bold.
Answers from Mr. Ferguson are italicized.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Tony. First off, how was your training camp and how are feeling going into this fight?
“I’m feeling phenomenal bro, everything in this camp has gone great and I can’t wait to get in there. If they told me that the fight was tomorrow, I’d be ready and down for it. Since I moved to O.C. (Orange County, CA) I’ve been able to take advantage of all the training facilities that are out here.
“My home gym is in Lake Forest at Reign Training Center and obviously I’m still training at 10th Planet Jiujitsu, trying to keep learning my fundamentals and earn that brown belt. Camp has been going amazing and it’s hard to say, I hate repeating myself but it’s just like any other fight I’ve had.
“I’ve prepared really well for it, my conditioning is amazing, I’m strong as an ox, everyone at the gym has been telling me that I look phenomenal. I was kind of depressed that we got bumped from the main card to the prelims, but it’s perfect. I get paid either way and I’m going to come out with a victory.”
On Twitter you mentioned that you were feeling ripped up and that we should prepare for an all new “El’ Cucuy.” Is it safe to say that this has been the best camp of your career?
“This is probably one of the best that I’ve had. In most of my other camps I haven’t lifted a lot of weights because I don’t want to get big and bulky. Like when I used to wrestle at Grand Valley State, the things I did that helped me win nationals over there I incorporated into this camp. Sprint work, putting in a plate workout after every single workout, I’ve been doing some pretty incredible stuff now.
“As far as what you’re going to see that’s new in the cage, I’m not going to have that ring rust, although it didn’t seem like I had ring rust against Mike Rio. I want to be able to go out there and throw combinations immediately, have a game plan and get my victory.”
What can you tell me about your opponent? Kikuno is a bit of an unknown among American fans, but he has a win in the UFC and several impressive finishes in Japan. How are you approaching the task at hand?
“Katsunori Kikuno is just another fighter, he’s 1-0 in the UFC, he’s got over twenty fights and he’s the DEEP 9 tournament champion. He did fight Quinn Mulhern and he did beat him by unanimous decision, but I think Quinn could have stood with him and used his jiujitsu game a little better, I think that he made Kikuno look good.
“He’s been fighting in his back yard his whole life and he has never fought anybody like me. Sure, he’s fought Eddie Alvarez and Quinn Mulhern is tall as heck, but look, I’ve got fast hands and he has fast feet. It’s going to be that classic battle like in the River City Ransom game for Nintendo, you’re going to have dragon feet against stone hands. I’m going to come in there and kick his butt, that’s how it’s gotta be.”
We last saw you compete at UFC 166 and prior to that you had the layoff for the arm injury. I’m wondering about the gap in time between these fights, I would imagine you have been eager to get back in there. Was it a lack of opposition? A timing issue?
“We actually would have ended up taking a fight a little bit quicker but I had the plate removed from my arm. I didn’t feel like being Wolverine anymore so I asked if the plate was really necessary in my arm, they said no and I was like, ‘shit, let’s take it out.’ For me, if I have something in my body that doesn’t belong there, I want it out of there, especially if I know that I operate twice as good without it.
“I knew it was holding me back and I told the doctors to get rid of the thing and that I would do everything I have to do to get my arm back to normal. They listened to me and I listened to everything they wanted, then I recovered. You’re going to see that my arm is back to normal and after I hit him with it, he isn’t going to want to be hit again.”
All injuries aside and assuming you’re healthy for the rest of the year, how many times would you like to compete in 2014 realistically?
“I would love to go back to how things were when I was on The Ultimate Fighter, I fought six times that year. I had three in the house, then I had Ramsey Nijem, Aaron Riley and then Yves Edwards all in one year. Six fights might be a lot but I can handle it, I would love to be able to fight every couple of months.
“If I come out unscathed and uninjured then boom, set me up with another one. As soon as I come out of this one with a victory you’ll see me again, but I’m not going to worry about what’s ahead because I have to worry about what’s at hand. I’m ready, I might not be talking about the title, but I have it in my sights and it’s always in my head.”
UFC 166 was an amazing night of fights and here we find you booked on what is arguably the most stacked card in 2014. Why do you think you continue to land a spot in these big events?
“Because I’m a tough-guy man! I’m a knockout artist and I’m a submission specialist now, I put in my time, I put in my effort and Dana White knows what’s up, so does Joe Silva. They know that I have an unlimited amount of potential and as long as I keep my mind and my training fluent, they know that I have the potential to be the champion one day. I just know that whatever I’m doing is the right thing, they keep giving me these great spots and all I have to do is show up with my A-game. Kick ass and chew bubble gum, you know what I mean?”
Before we jump into the lightweight division and your evolution as a fighter, I just wanted to know what fight on this card you are most looking forward to watching?
“Mine. I’m going to steal the show, I don’t just game plan for a fight, I have pathways where I can win. If one pathway doesn’t work then I just have to go to another one, that’s something I take pride in because I put in the time and the hours in the gym.
“As far as how the night goes, I’d love to see my fight get Performance of the Night and be one of the best fights on that card. That way, they have to put me on the main card next time. It’s nothing against Cormier, Henderson, Lawler, Ellenberger, Dillashaw and Barão because those are all great fights, but I’m going to steal the show. It’s going to be hard to do but I have an unlimited amount of potential to do so.”
From your wrestling days, through TUF 13 and up until present day, it’s been pretty clear that you don’t have a problem with work ethic. That being said, what kind of things have you been working on in the gym that you are most eager to display this weekend?
“My confidence. That loss to Michael Johnson tore me up man, just one loss tore me up. I’m 4 and 1 in the UFC and I always think about that loss, I’m a perfectionist and I strive for that, but when I make a mistake I always make sure that I go back and fix it. The evolution of El’ Cucuy will come out for this fight and I’ll be twice as scary for this guy. I am one to be reckoned with in this game, I know I’m a top ten UFC fighter.”
The lightweight division has never been more competitive and now that you’re healthy, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be back on everyone’s radar. I know you aren’t the type to call someone out, but what match-ups are intriguing to you? Is a rematch with Michael Johnson something that you really want?
“That’s not even in my head anymore, I took that loss as a learning experience and if it happens, it happens. Of course I want to kick that dudes ass, he broke my arm, but it’s not like there’s any animosity. He’s a cool dude, he’s from TUF, but I’m done fighting guys from TUF, I want to fight these other guys. I want to fight the top contenders who are trying to make a name for themselves and shut them up, then I can be in title contention.”
In previous conversations we spoke about the mental and spiritual side of fighting. With the ups and downs of your career with the injury and now being back in prime form, how important has the mixture of mind, body and spirit been for you?
“It’s taken me years to get to where I’m at and I haven’t perfected it, but I try to perfect it as much as I can. You need to have that balance man, if you don’t have it in your mind then it can’t be in your heart. Burt Watson tells us that all the time and I believe it one-hundred percent. If you’re not training with all of your heart and all of your mental ability, and you don’t have the support around you, you’re not going to be ready. My stress level isn’t nearly what it was back in The Ultimate Fighter. For me, it’s just been an incredible journey.”
Back to Katsunori. What are you expecting from him on Saturday? And what areas are you expecting to dominate?
“I know he’s going to come out real slow and he’s going to come straight forward. Kind of like my fight with Ramsey Nijem, he came straight forward and I just had to pick my angles. I’m not going to head hunt too much, I’m going to go in there with a game plan, try to get the finish for the victory and come out unscathed. A lot of guys are scared of his kicks but I welcome any challenge and I love the stand up, that’s the kind of person that I am.”
If this fight gets finished do you see it being a knockout or submission?
“Either one. Let me say this; when I was wrestling in freestyle back in the day, my pops always told me that I needed to get my mat time. He’d say, ‘we spent all this money and bring you all over Michigan for you to wrestle five times and only be out there thirty seconds, you need to get some mat time.’ In mixed martial arts, you don’t really want to get that mat time but I’m going to go in there and use all my skills. Not just my Muay Thai, not just my boxing or my jiujitsu or my wrestling, but everything. Being unorthodox is a tool that is in my box and any problem that he has, I’m going to have a tool for it.”
In conclusion, why should fans tune in on Saturday and what can all the “El’ Cucuy” supporters expect from you in 2014?
“You’re going to see fireworks. You’re going to see bombs blasting, you’re going to see sick brawling, you’re going to see it all. And I hope to bring a whole new aspect of my game. I want to show off some sick stand up or some sick jiujitsu that nobody has ever seen before. I love to be original and I love to be extraordinarily original. As far as my fans go, thank you all for supporting Tony Ferguson. I’m going to be a lot more scary in this fight and I’m going to put fear in my opponents eyes. The next guy won’t want to step in there with me.”
Make sure you tune in for Tony’s fight this Saturday, live on FOX Sports 1! The man means business. Check your local listings.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyFergusonXT
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