Tony Ferguson competes in his 22nd UFC fight when he takes on Bobby Green on the UFC 291 main card this weekend. A couple of years ago, the idea of him facing an unranked lightweight like Green would have been unthinkable, especially considering his impressive 12-fight winning streak from 2012 to 2020. Yet, the harsh reality is that Ferguson now finds himself on a five-fight losing skid. Regardless of the outcome this weekend, at 39 years old, it's time “El Cucuy” seriously considers retiring from mixed martial arts.
It all could have gone so differently. After four previous failed attempts, it looked like we would finally see Ferguson battle Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title at UFC 249 in April 2020. This was a dream fight in the lightweight division. Sure, in hindsight, Nurmagomedov may have likely won, but that didn't stop fans from wanting to witness it given that Ferguson — especially during his prime — had all the tools to potentially become the first to stop inflict defeat on the Dagestan native.
But the curse was so strong with this fight that the one time it looked like it would finally happen, we had a global pandemic shut the world down. Nurmagomedov was stuck in Russia and couldn't make it to the United States and so, Ferguson would battle Justin Gaethje — a brawler with a completely different non-wrestling style — on short notice for the interim lightweight title at UFC 249. What went down that night is what led us to where we are today.
Ferguson would get battered over five rounds before his body eventually had enough and stopped listening to him as the referee called an end to the action. The Mexican-American was already known for his chin and took plenty of damage even during his winning streak. But against Gaethje, he absorbed 100 significant strikes to the head and they were some of the most grueling shots we've ever heard. Nurmagomedov said it himself — once you take a beating like that, you'll never be the same.
That turned out to be the case. Ferguson has since suffered defeats to Charles Oliveira, Beneil Dariush, Michael Chandler and Nate Diaz. Against Chandler, he was brutally knocked out cold for the first time in his career with a vicious front kick knockout. Against Diaz, he was submitted with a guillotine choke. Of course, these aren't bums — they're some of the best fighters in the world. However, other than the Chandler fight where Ferguson had a promising first round, he's never really looked the same that he did prior to Gaethje. Instead, he looked a lot older and slower. Not to mention, he seemed to lack the confidence and mental strength that made him such a boogeyman in the first place.
In Green, however, Ferguson faces his first unranked opponent since 2016 and a fighter who is on a three-fight winless streak. Green is three years younger, but is a big step down in competition with only one finish by knockout in the last decade. That said, he's still a puzzle given his dynamic boxing style. He may not get knockouts, but he can still put a hurting on his opponents. And such is the lack of confidence in Ferguson that he's a massive underdog against Green as well. It would be a huge win if he didn't take major damage, let alone get finished on Saturday night. That said, it's still a winnable fight for “El Cucuy” and should he earn his first win since 2019, what better way to go out than with a victory?
He's not getting another title shot and he turns 40 next year. What need is there to keep competing and take more unnecessary damage? Why risk becoming another BJ Penn, destroying his own record and effectively being forced to not fight anymore? It says something that even if Ferguson loses and embarks on a six-fight winning streak, his record would still be a more than respectable 26-9 — still a couple of defeats away from a .500 record.
All that said, Ferguson is not one to retire just because people are telling him to — he's too stubborn and competitive. Even as this was being written, he spoke during media day of how he had no plans to retire and would go out on his own terms. If one checks the replies, they can even see Ferguson's own fans getting frustrated by such comments.
— MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) July 26, 2023
When speaking about Ferguson recently, Gaethje spoke about confidence and listening to the people closest to you when it comes to calling it a day.
“You have to work hard to get it [confidence] back, but he’s a fighter,” Gaethje said. “Through and through. I’ve got nothing but respect for him. You just hope that all of us have people who love us enough that are willing to have that conversation. That he’s willing to listen, or I’m willing to listen, or any fighter is willing to listen when that conversation has to be had.”
Ferguson is definitely in need of that conversation, win or lose against Green. It would be special if he got the win and retired on top like former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler. But even if he loses again, there's no shame in retiring. Because regardless of the outcome this weekend, he will always be remembered as one of the most entertaining, memorable and beloved fighters of all time.