The fight promises to be an entertainer - the pre-show press conference was filled with gold from all fighters, Ferguson in particular. 'El Cucuy' desperately needs an addition to the win column, and UFC 262 could be make or break for a man who's been among the unluckier fighters in the history of the promotion.
In this article, we analyze what could be next for Tony Ferguson after UFC 262.
Tony Ferguson will be right back among the lightweight elite if he wins at UFC 262
Tony Ferguson might be taking on an opponent ranked four places below him, but he'll have a real task on his hands in the form of Beneil Dariush.
Dariush was devastatingly knocked out by Edson Barboza in March 2017. And after failing to win his next two fights against Evan Dunham and Alexander Hernandez respectively, it seemed like he wouldn't be anywhere near the top of the UFC lightweight division.
But the 32-year-old has recovered admirably, and is now an improved fighter on a 6-fight winning streak. Having advanced his striking game, Dariush is an extremely dangerous opponent for Ferguson, even if his skills aren't far superior on paper.
The first fight, against Gaethje at UFC 249, was meant to be against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Ferguson, who expectedly spent his entire camp training for a grappler, met one of the hardest-hitting strikers at lightweight in Gaethje. He had no reason to take the fight on short notice, but chose to entertain fans in a pandemic-affected world.
Ferguson's loss to Oliveira wasn't as cut and dry, as he was ragdolled by the Brazilian in a fight that was scored 30-26 by all three judges. 'El Cucuy' later claimed that he barely trained any jiu-jitsu ahead of the fight, which seemed like he was grasping at straws to explain why he had been thoroughly outclassed.
However, Oliveira is one of the most dangerous lightweights on the planet right now. He was on a seven-fight win streak when he took on Ferguson, and the career renaissance he has experienced since 2018 cannot be forgotten.
With losses to two of the best lightweights in the UFC, both of whom are firmly in the title picture, Ferguson hasn't done much wrong even if he appears to be slightly past his prime due to the one-sided nature of the defeats. A win over Dariush would put him right back among the top contenders, and he'd be only a win or two away from a title shot.
Mouthwatering fights against the loser of Conor McGregor vs Dustin Poirier or even the loser of Michael Chandler vs Charles Oliveira could be next for Tony Ferguson.
A loss could be fatal for Tony Ferguson's UFC career
However, on the flip side, Tony Ferguson's UFC career could suffer a fatal blow if he loses to Dariush at UFC 262.
At 37, Ferguson's days as a top fighter are numbered. This, coupled with the fact that he's lost seven of his last eight rounds in the UFC, wouldn't make it a stretch to claim that we may never see prime 'El Cucuy' again.
Speaking about Ferguson's chances ahead of UFC 256, eternal rival Khabib Nurmagomedov once said:
"Tony Ferguson’s time is finished. How he gonna come back? Someone gonna beat him again, I believe, because when you take damage like this you never gonna be same, never ever, even if you’re Tony Ferguson."
These statements have aged quite well. Tony Ferguson has taken a lot of damage, and he's suffered a number of injuries both inside and outside the Octagon.
The inevitable decline that follows a war like the one he had against Gaethje (he took 100 shots to the head) might resign Ferguson to being nothing more than a gatekeeper. Although he'd still have a number of fun fights to make, given his sheer entertainment value and unpredictability, it would be safe to claim that he probably will never clinch gold.
There even exists the possibility that UFC president Dana White loses faith in Tony Ferguson. Speaking after Ferguson's loss to Oliveira, White said:
"Of course that’s possible (he’s past his prime), but Tony needs to go home and spend the holidays with his family and take some time off and think about what he wants to do next year and we’ll see what’s next for him. But yes, every time you fight in this business, that’s always possible."
It would be criminal if the UFC decided to part ways with the former interim lightweight champ after all he's done for the company, but it would go in hand with their policy of ushering in the younger generation.
Yoel Romero lost four of his last five fights in the UFC via razor-thin decisions, but being on the wrong side of 40, was let go in December 2020. Other veterans like Tyron Woodley, Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos were also trimmed from the roster after being a shadow of their prime selves.
All in all, Tony Ferguson has a lot hanging in the balance ahead of UFC 262. He appeared to have had a good weight cut and was in good spirits at the weigh-ins. Many MMA fans around the world will want one of their favorite fighters to turn back the clock and come out on top in what seems to be a do-or-die scenario for him.
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