The UFC’s lightweight division is a shark tank of sorts.
Surging contenders have recently made their ascent to the top of the roster, staking their own individual claims for a potential title shot in 2016. This includes former champion Anthony Pettis, undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov, resurgent Eddie Alvarez, an evolving Michael Johnson, explosive striker Edson Barboza, and good old Donald Cerrone, who will get his chance for gold before anyone else when he meets current titleholder Rafael dos Anjos later this month at UFC on Fox 17.
But despite the high-profile names that make up the contender pool, one shark is swimming unnoticed. In fact, his torrid attack on the weight class has eluded most radars in years past.
His name is Tony Ferguson, former TUF 13 winner, and he’s beginning to sink his teeth into the surrounding chum.
As the owner of a vastly underrated 9-1 UFC record, “El Cucuy”has quietly situated himself as one of the most consistent 155-pound entities in the game today. One who has not only claimed six-straight Octagon victories, but also a slick executioner who has finished six fights throughout his promotional tenure.
While many doubters will question Ferguson’s level of competition, or lack thereof, defeating former top contender Josh Thomson with 83 significant strikes, submitting powerhouse Gleison Tibau in the first round, and choking his way past an-ultra dangerous Abel Trujillo, goes a long way in understanding his prolific evolution. Because at the end of the day, Michael Johnson remains the only fighter to ever defeat the 31-year-old in the UFC.
Scheduled to take on top-flight finisher Edson Barboza at The Ultimate Fighter Season 22 Finale, Ferguson will have another opportunity to rise to the occasion and take one more step towards a title shot. The Brazilian is undoubtedly his toughest test to date, sporting world-class kickboxing, unparalleled speed and 83 percent takedown defense, but “El Cucuy” is someone who does his best work when the spotlight burns the brightest.
Similar to what T.J. Dillashaw did opposite Renan Barao, Ferguson is just as capable of coming into his own against a true threat at 155 pounds. But that doesn’t mean he won’t have to work for the win.
Why is nobody talking about Tony Ferguson? He's 9-1 in the UFC, he's won six straight, and he's an incredible talent in every phase.
— Patrick Wyman (@Patrick_Wyman) November 30, 2015
Barboza is quite the skilled striker. Based strictly on precision, technique, timing, shot selection, quickness, and effective damaging, he may very well possess the best standup in the division. This was never more evident than when he out-struck Cerrone 28 to 11 back at UFC on Fox 11, prior to “Cowboy” securing a first-round rear-naked choke. It was only the Brazilian’s second career loss by finish after getting unexpectedly run over by a supersonic Jamie Varner back in 2012.
If Ferguson is able to capitalize on his sound scrambling ability, shifty footwork, unorthodox movements, and natural instinct to pounce on beaten foe, he could very well become the third person ever to stop the wheel-kicking Barboza. But if he attempts to go toe-to-toe with one of the nastiest offensive marksmen at the lightweight level, he could very well find himself limping (literally) out of the cage.
It will be up to Ferguson to attack early, but smartly. Doing so will only further prohibit the Brazilian from discovering the range he needs to land successful blows. Everything else will fall into place, including a 2016 title shot.