Tony Ferguson had to delay Christmas season plans and his management had to cut short a Mexican vacation, but when all was said and done, the long-awaited and often-delayed fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov was signed, sealed and official for April 18.
After injury, illness and fate saw this fight booked and cancelled on four separate occasions, Ferguson will challenge Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight championship at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. That also was the site of their fourth scheduled bout in 2018, which fell apart during fight week.
With more than four months to prepare, Ferguson wants to keep everything as close to business as usual, which means leaning into his notoriously intense workout routine.
“I don’t change anything. I’m always peaking,” Ferguson said Monday on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. “I rest hard, I party hard, and I play hard. That’s exactly how I’ve been doing it for a very long time, and nothing’s going to change. The only things I’m going to change are for me and for my team, and nobody else is going to know.”
Ferguson is projecting extreme confidence against the unbeaten Nurmagomedov as this long stretch of waiting begins, pointing to common opponent Gleison Tibau as a measuring stick. Nurmagomedov won by unanimous decision in 2012, while Ferguson earned a first-round submission victory by rear-naked choke over Tibau in 2015.
“I handled Thibault a lot better than the way Khabib did,” Ferguson said. “I’m not going to give any spoilers, but I will say, though, Khabib is very beatable.”
Ferguson hopes to go face-to-face with Nurmagomedov before the year is out, suggesting that Dec. 13, during the fight week leading up to UFC 245 in Las Vegas, would likely be the date. In his mind, it would be an opportunity to reinforce a psychological advantage he feels like he holds over Nurmagomedov.
“I’m going to keep poking the bear, I’m going to make sure that Khabib shows up — that he’s going to see me before this year’s done,” Ferguson said. “He’s going to understand. He’s going to go through the holidays and he’s going to be wondering about me. I’m going to be in his head again. He’s going to have a lot on his plate, and I think they got a little too arrogant with the way they handled things.
“I’m in this dude’s head. He’s going to train so hard and he’s going to be so nervous that he’s going to make a mistake. I’m going to capitalize on that. I’m going to catch him during the scramble.”
Ariel Helwani says based on the history of cancelled fights between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, he wonders why the bout was announced over four months in advance.
From movie set to Octagon, Shevchenko keeps new look
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) December 2, 2019
Valentina Shevchenko is going to look like a different fighter when she steps into the Octagon on Feb. 8 to defend her UFC women’s flyweight championship against Katlyn Chookagian.
She will still have the slick footwork and timely counters, especially those lethal kicks and spinning attacks that make her one of the scarier strikers in MMA.
What will be different? The 31-year-old native of Kyrgyzstan (18-3) will be a red-head, not the blonde the fight world has come to know. “It was not my idea at first,” Shevchenko said during Monday’s appearance on the Helwani Show. “It was the idea of Halle Berry.”
The Academy Award-winning actress is making her directorial debut in the forthcoming film “Bruised,” which tells the story of an MMA fighter rebuilding her life. Berry, a longtime fan of the sport, plays the lead role and cast Shevchenko as her opponent — with a change in hair color.
“The character in the movie that I’m playing should have red hair,” Shevchenko said Berry told her. Shevchenko, who trained with Berry for nearly two months prior to stepping in front of the cameras, is finished working on the film. But she is keeping the red hair for a while — beyond fight night, at least — “because everybody likes it.”
There is no publicly announced release date for “Bruised,” and filming continues. There was a brief postponement last month after it was reported that Berry was “slightly injured” during the filming of a fight scene.
Shevchenko did not address that with Helwani. Shevchenko is the only professional mixed martial artist in the film — although she counts another cast member among her peer group: “After all these years of training — because Halle, she was training MMA for two or three years before filming started — now we can say definitely she’s a professional fighter as well.”
Adesanya dishes on Costa, comparison to Conor-Aldo
Israel Adesanya says a fight between himself and Paulo Costa would go the same way as Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor, because Costa is a bull and he can be the matador.
Sayif Saud on knowing when to throw in the towel
When it comes to MMA fighters, there’s a consistent mentality among most about “going out on your shield” and not giving up while there’s even the slightest glimmer of hope of a comeback. With increased scrutiny about fighter safety in the boxing world in light of the deaths of Maxim Dadashev and Patrick Day, it’s natural to ask how fighters in hopeless scenarios in MMA fights should be handled when they face tremendous damage and have no interest in gaining the reputation for being a quitter.
Fortis MMA coach Sayif Saud discussed his thought process on stepping in and stopping a fight, including the one moment in his career in which he was on the brink of doing so.
“I’ve been [in that situation] one time,” recalled Saud. “It was actually in LFA. I had the towel in my hand, and it’s the only time I’ve ever had it in my hand. And it was very difficult. The fighter that won ended up going to the UFC, he’s a world champion, great fighter and a great guy. And I had a young kid in there who beat him in the first round, but this guy is a BJJ world champion. He got him on the ground and he had him mounted, and I’ll never forget those elbows he was dropping on him. His head had nowhere to go, he was against the fence, and he had taken some damage, but not a lot.
“But I knew he wasn’t going to get out. And that’s when I grabbed the towel, because what’s the point? What I’ve done with some other fighters who get hit a lot, and they know who they are, I’ve told them, I said, ‘If you go in there and you’re getting hit a lot, and you keep bleeding and doing all this and all that, make no mistake about it – I’ll throw in the towel.’ I’m huge on damage. I love MMA, it’s great, but I care a lot more about my kids than I care about a fight. And I tell them that.
“Don’t act like this is the biggest deal in the world, this is what we’re all doing right now, but this isn’t forever… It never came to fruition, and you never want your fighters to doubt your faith in them, but it goes back to communicating effectively and being honest. I haven’t had to do it yet, but you’re damn straight I’ll do it.”
Alberto El Patron ready for Tito Ortiz
Alberto El Patron wants to make one thing clear. Although he’s best known for being a star in the scripted world of pro wrestling, his fight on Saturday against Tito Ortiz for the Combate Americas promotion is totally on the square.
That goes against the belief of some, including ESPN MMA analyst Chael Sonnen, who has said that he thought the El Patron-Ortiz fight was going to be a “work.”
“I think it’s pretty stupid for someone like him to say stuff like that because we have two individuals, two athletes, two Mexican-Americans working their ass off,” El Patron said. “For someone like Sonnen to come and say something like that is disrespectful.”
For those unfamiliar with the 42-year-old El Patron, he’s a two-time WWE champion who also has a background in MMA. He has a 9-5 record, which includes a KO loss to Mirko Cro Cop in 2003.
El Patron hasn’t fought since 2010, but he’s still confident that he can defeat Ortiz, a former UFC champion. As a stipulation for the pay-per-view fight, they’re both putting belts they previously won on the line: Ortiz’s UFC title and El Patron’s WWE championship.
“In order to get a title … you have to put hours and hours of sweat, blood and tears in order to accomplish those awards,” El Patron said. “So it’s not so much about taking the belt, it’s taking his legacy.
“For me, it’s going to be amazing to kick his ass and then take that UFC title and put it in my trophy room.”