Matt Brown still backs Tony Ferguson, but says ‘El Cucuy’ never the same after Justin Gaethje ‘beat the f****** hell’ out of him
Tony Ferguson likely sits at a career crossroad following a seventh consecutive loss after falling to Paddy Pimblett at UFC 296.
UFC CEO Dana White already called for Ferguson’s retirement, but he stopped short of saying the promotion would release the ex-interim champ rather than offer another fight.
Ferguson, meanwhile, hasn’t said much in the wake of his latest defeat, though fellow UFC veteran Matt Brown isn’t quite ready to give up on him yet. If anything, Brown admits he misjudged Pimblett’s abilities heading into UFC 296, because he put on a much better performance against Ferguson than initially expected.
“Tony’s putting in the work,” Brown said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “He’s putting in the time. We see he’s grinding. When you’re doing David Goggins’ hell week, you put in the time, you put in the work. When you look at the resume of the people he’s lost to, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. These are killers.
“But now losing to Paddy, now it opens the question — maybe Paddy’s better than we think he is? Or is Tony on his last leg? It really didn’t answer a lot of questions for me. It didn’t answer the questions that I had at least. Are both these guys just better than we give them credit for? Maybe Tony still has some fights he can win. Maybe Paddy was just the better man tonight. It just didn’t answer all my questions.”
While Brown isn’t ready to hammer the final nail in Ferguson’s coffin, he acknowledges that the former interim UFC lightweight champion hasn’t looked anywhere close to he did when rattling off 12 straight wins in one of the sport’s deepest divisions.
On multiple occasions, Ferguson was scheduled to face Khabib Nurmagomedov, including a couple of title fight opportunities that would have given him the chance to become an undisputed UFC champion. Injuries, bad timing and the global pandemic thwarted the fight from ever happening, and instead, Ferguson engaged in a war with Justin Gaethje in the UFC’s first card since the COVID-19 pandemic, UFC 249.
Ferguson nearly scored a finish early in the fight, but Gaethje came back to punish “El Cucuy” before a fifth-round stoppage.
Brown can’t help but wonder if perhaps that fight with Gaethje took something away from Ferguson that he just never got back.
“I feel like that fight [with Justin Gaethje] or the [Michael] Chandler one, just took it out of him,” Brown said. “What a situation. It sucks. One of the biggest what-ifs. He tears his knee out trying to fight Khabib for the fourth time, tripping over a f****** wire. It’s just been downhill ever since. I feel like Gaethje took it out of him.
“The way he punched his face and just knocked his head around just scrambled some eggs in there. I can’t figure out, Tony looked like the normal Tony [at UFC 296]…he wasn’t looking slower. He’s always been an awkward, not really fast guy. So it makes me wonder maybe Paddy’s better than we give him credit for. I hate saying that, because I feel like that’s not the truth, but I have to wonder if he is, and if he is, is Tony still better than we think he is.”
It remains to be seen if Ferguson’s UFC career is over, but Brown still sees a world where he returns to the octagon. Before that happens, though, Brown prefers to see Ferguson entertain some grappling matches just to see if he’s still got the skills to compete with the best in the world.
“Let’s see if he’s still got it without taking punches to the head,” Brown suggested. “I’d just love to see him do something else. Not just be risking his brain out there. I think that’s the biggest problem with all these fights other than Bobby Green, I just remember so many of these fights just him getting beat the hell up.
“Obviously, that’s not good for you. I don’t think we have to debate that. Especially Chandler and Gaethje, they beat the f****** hell out of Tony Ferguson. He’s been knocked out how many times now?”
If Ferguson finds success there, then Brown believes he could come back for another UFC fight. But even, Brown knows it comes down to stylistic matchups that won’t put the 39-year-old fighter in nearly as much potential peril.
“Ryan Hall would be a perfect fight for him,” Brown said. “Whether it’s a retirement fight or not, he’s in there without a ton of risk — I mean there’s always a risk of getting your face beat in — but it’s not like a Josh Emmett where the guy’s game plan is to break your head open.
“I think there’s still matchups out there for him if he still wants to do it. I’d love to see him fight somebody with the right matchup where he can get his confidence back.”