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4 times Tony Ferguson came back from the dead to win UFC fights

With his ability to absorb punishment, Tony Ferguson has been compared to WWE legend The Undertaker.
With his ability to absorb punishment, Tony Ferguson has been compared to WWE legend The Undertaker.
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST

UFC 256 takes place this weekend in Las Vegas, and in the co-main event of the show, one of the most dangerous UFC fighters of the past decade returns. Tony Ferguson is back following his first loss since 2012 to take on submission expert Charles Oliveira, and El Cucuy will definitely be looking for a big win.

While Tony Ferguson has become renowned for his ability to push an insane pace, his skilled striking, and his ability to snatch up submissions, he’s also renowned for his toughness.

Few UFC fighters have shown the ability to come back from a beating quite like Tony Ferguson, and some fans have even made a comparison between El Cucuy and WWE legend The Undertaker. Like The Phenom, Tony Ferguson has made a habit of seemingly coming back from the dead.

With that in mind, here are four times Tony Ferguson came back from the dead to win UFC fights.


#1 Tony Ferguson vs. Edson Barboza – TUF 22 Finale, 2015

Tony Ferguson survived a bloodbath to choke out Edson Barboza in 2015.
Tony Ferguson survived a bloodbath to choke out Edson Barboza in 2015.

December 2015’s TUF 22 Finale was supposed to see Tony Ferguson take on Khabib Nurmagomedov. But of course, the fight didn’t end up happening. For the first time, the highly anticipated bout went down the drain when Nurmagomedov picked up an injury. And so Ferguson ended up facing off with Edson Barboza instead.

Renowned as one of the best strikers in the UFC’s Lightweight division, it was clear that Tony Ferguson would be in a firefight in this clash. And sure enough, that was the case. A back-and-forth first round saw both fighters take some huge shots - Ferguson even had a point deducted for an illegal upkick. But it was the Brazilian who was getting the better of things.

And with just moments to go in the round, a huge left hook connected for Barboza and sent Ferguson reeling. But somehow, El Cucuy was able to stay on his feet. Early in the second round, though, things got even worse.

Barboza connected with a nasty step-in elbow in the early going, and Ferguson was sliced open across his right eyebrow, leaking blood all over the place. It looked like curtains for El Cucuy, but he had other ideas.

Wading forward like a zombie, Ferguson connected on a huge combination of his own – and left Barboza bleeding even worse than he was. From there, the Brazilian attempted a takedown – only for Ferguson to catch his neck and snap him down into a D’Arce choke to force a tap out.

It was an unbelievable fight and an unbelievable win for Tony Ferguson. It was made even more incredible by the fact that El Cucuy took so much punishment only to somehow find a way to pull through for victory.


#2 Tony Ferguson vs. Lando Vannata - UFC Fight Night 91, 2016

Tony Ferguson took some serious punishment at the hands of Lando Vannata in 2016.
Tony Ferguson took some serious punishment at the hands of Lando Vannata in 2016.

July 2016’s UFC Fight Night 91 was supposed to see Tony Ferguson face off with surging contender Michael Chiesa. But when Maverick was forced out with an injury, the UFC found El Cucuy a different opponent.

Lando Vannata – a largely unknown fighter with a record of 8-0 – stepped in to take the fight on late notice, and most observers figured that Tony Ferguson would have a simple victory on his hands. That turned out to be far from the case.

The first round saw the two fighters going toe-to-toe, and it was quickly clear that Vannata wasn’t as overmatched as fans had expected. Instead, he landed plenty of good shots on Ferguson, including a hard spinning backfist, and looked capable of taking them in return, too.

And when Ferguson threw a lazy low kick, Vannata caught the leg – and then leveled him with a massive head kick. It looked like El Cucuy was out – and indeed, most other fighters would’ve been. But just like The Undertaker, somehow, Ferguson rose from the dead and got back to his feet.

More punches dropped El Cucuy again, but somehow, he got up again – only for Vannata to send him crashing back down. With referee John McCarthy hovering, it looked like the fight was over. But instead, Ferguson rolled for a kneebar and almost submitted Vannata before ending the round on his back.

Even so, Vannata seemed confident coming into the second round. That confidence turned out to be misplaced. Incredibly, Ferguson looked like he’d never been hurt at all and instead began landing heavy punches on Vannata, hurting him badly.

And once again, when Vannata left his neck open, Ferguson was able to grab a schoolyard headlock, drag him to the ground, and then lock up his trademark D’Arce choke for the tap out.

The win was probably one of the UFC’s all-time great comebacks. But somehow, it felt like business as usual for Tony Ferguson, who simply shrugged off the beating he took in the first round like it’d never happened.


#3 Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee – UFC 216, 2017

Tony Ferguson recovered from a near-finish to submit Kevin Lee at UFC 216.
Tony Ferguson recovered from a near-finish to submit Kevin Lee at UFC 216.

At UFC 216 in October 2017, Tony Ferguson was given his first chance at becoming a UFC champion. He found himself in a fight for the UFC’s interim Lightweight crown against highly-ranked contender Kevin Lee. But coming off the back of 10 straight wins, El Cucuy was definitely the favorite.

However, the fight turned out to be much more of a war than Ferguson would’ve hoped. The first round saw the two fighters pushing a hectic pace, exchanging strikes before Lee drew first blood. A heavy right hand dropped Ferguson. But as everyone had gotten used to seeing, El Cucuy popped right back up and returned the favor, sending Lee down too.

Eventually, though, Lee was able to get a takedown. And despite Ferguson hunting for a triangle choke, The Motown Phenom passed his guard, moved into full mount – and then began to rain down heavy blows. At one point, Ferguson looked like he was out. However, he survived to the buzzer, and just like The Undertaker, he sat up and walked to his corner like nothing had happened.

From there, Lee was barely able to get any more offense going. He found himself picked apart by Ferguson’s striking in the second round, and when he did get a takedown in the third, things didn’t go his way at all.

Instead, El Cucuy was able to catch him in a triangle choke, and while Lee resisted for a few seconds, it was only momentary. As he appeared to be on the verge of unconsciousness, he tapped out – handing Ferguson his first UFC title.

Once again, Ferguson had risen from the jaws of defeat to capture a major victory. And once again, it somehow looked like he’d shrugged off a ridiculous amount of punishment along the way.


#4 Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis – UFC 229, 2018

Tony Ferguson recovered from a beatdown to defeat Anthony Pettis in 2018.
Tony Ferguson recovered from a beatdown to defeat Anthony Pettis in 2018.

Following his win over Lee, Tony Ferguson picked up a knee injury that sidelined him for almost a year – costing him his interim UFC Lightweight title in the process. But when new champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was matched with former champ Conor McGregor at UFC 229, El Cucuy made a surprising return in the co-main event.

Ferguson was matched with another former champion in the form of Anthony Pettis. And while Showtime was coming off a win over Michael Chiesa, the 10-fight winning streak of El Cucuy made him the favorite.

Indeed, the first round of the fight seemed to be following that pattern. Despite Pettis’ vaunted striking skills, it was Tony Ferguson who got the better of almost all of the exchanges in the first round, using his unorthodox style to force Showtime firmly onto his back foot.

Early in the second round, however, disaster struck. El Cucuy simply came in a little too aggressively, and Pettis was able to counter with a right hand – sending him crashing to the ground. Ferguson leaped back up instantly and tried to return fire, but his legs remained wobbly. And Pettis then decked him for a second time with a right hand to the temple.

This time it looked like El Cucuy was done. Despite an attempt to roll back to his feet, Pettis kept pouring on the pressure and then sent him down for a third time. However, despite bleeding severely, Ferguson could somehow survive and even cut Pettis from his back.

And moments later – rising like a zombie as the doctor stepped in to check Pettis’ cut – Ferguson was laughing like he’d never even taken a punch. Sure enough, as the fight resumed, it was El Cucuy who went on the offensive, taking the fight to Pettis with his razor-sharp striking.

By the time the round ended, Pettis was wilting under the pressure, barely able to survive under Ferguson’s barrage. And sure enough, between rounds, Pettis’ corner pulled him out of the fight, basically saving their fighter from more of a beatdown.

This was probably Tony Ferguson’s greatest-ever comeback. Not only did he suffer a huge knockdown, but it was at the hands of one of the deadliest strikers in the UFC’s Lightweight division.

Somehow though, he was able to show superhuman recovery powers and win again. And for his opponents, it must feel like facing an undead zombie – just like The Undertaker.


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Edited by Zaid Khan
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