FERGUSON JOINS AN ELITE FRATERNITY; WHAT’S NEXT?
Diego Sanchez. Forrest Griffin. Joe Stevenson. Rashad Evans. Kendall Grove. Michael Bisping. Matt Serra. Travis Lutter. Nate Diaz. Mac Danzig. Amir Sadollah. Efrain Escudero. Ryan Bader. Ross Pearson. James Wilks. Roy Nelson. Court McGee. Jonathan Brookins.
And, after a spectacular knockout win on Saturday night, Tony Ferguson.
Those are the 18 past winners of The Ultimate Fighter, plus the newest entry into the exclusive fraternity. Over the last six years, TUF has gone from something scoffed at by veteran fighters to a bona fide builder of future stars.
Three of those men went on to win UFC gold. Three others earned the right to challenge for gold. Three more have established themselves as legitimate contenders in their respective weight classes. Two no longer compete in the UFC. Seven more are still digging in the trenches as they try to build themselves into contenders.
Where will Ferguson fit in? It is impossible to predict whether he will ultimately find a place among the top UFC welterweights. If history is any indicator, it will take the brash youngster a bit of time get himself situated in the UFC. That is OK because the UFC traditionally takes its time building and marketing TUF winners.
Ferguson has shown legitimate potential through his time on Spike TV. This kid has big power in his punches. Knocking Ramsey Nijem stiff with a single left hook was an eye opener for lots of folks. His takedown defense appears to be solid, though we haven’t seen him against a truly dominant wrestler. The big question mark for me is whether he has good offensive or defensive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. That part of his game remains a major question mark, though the training vignettes (which admittedly are designed to display a fighter in a favorable light) showed him moving with the skill and grace of someone who has more than just a passing knowledge of MMA’s ground game.
My expectation is that we will see Ferguson compete again sometime in the fall, assuming no injuries or other mishaps. It is going to be interesting to watch Ferguson develop on two levels. The obvious one is his growth as a fighter. Success on TUF doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in the UFC.
Equally intriguing will be watching how the public reacts to Ferguson going forward. He rightfully drew harsh criticisms from fellow competitors, pundits and fans for his actions inside the TUF house. Rehabilitating his image may prove to be just as difficult as finding his way in the UFC’s talent-laden welterweight division.
GUIDA PROVES THAT EFFORT IS EVERYTHING
Anthony Pettis is a seriously skilled offensive fighter. This guy has as many different tools to end a fight as anyone in the lightweight division. Yet, he came up short in a bout that most believe was a title eliminator for the eventual winner of Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard III. Clay Guida, despite his apparent athletic shortcomings compared to his opponent, imposed his will over the course of three hard-fought, entertaining rounds.
Guida proves again and again that mixed martial arts fights aren’t decided solely on athleticism or even on talent. MMA fights are more often than not decided based on effort and game plan, and nobody in the lightweight division gives more of himself and remains fully committed to his game plan than Guida.
As a result, a guy who many believe only has average overall skills now stands on the cusp of a shot at the UFC lightweight championship.
Look, I’m not being disrespectful when claiming that many view Guida as an average overall fighter. Reality is a sometimes a tough pill to swallow. Guida is not a great striker. He is not a great submission fighter. He is not the biggest or strongest guy in the division. None of that matters, though. Guida is one of the very best in the game because he outworks opponents and because his way of fighting, which is to rely on his overall toughness, endless cardio and dominant wrestling, is crazy effective.
Guida now has back-to-back wins over former champions. He defeated former PRIDE lightweight champion Takanori Gomi in his last fight. I’m not sure what else he needs to do to prove his championship mettle.
I’ll go out on a limb right now. Regardless of who wins between Edgar and Maynard, if Guida is given the next shot, he will give either man fits. He will make it an ugly, hard-fought bout that is likely to win Fight of the Night honors, and he might even come away with the title.
TIME TO STOP UNDERESTIMATING COPE
Like everyone else, I watched every episode of TUF, and I was never a big believer in Chris Cope. He seemed like a guy who didn’t want to really engage on the feet, wasn’t overly technical with his standup, and had no ground game. Chuck O’Neil didn’t test Cope’s ground game, so that remains a question for me. Nonetheless, the “whoo” guy showed me that he is a far more skilled striker than I thought.
Cope basically undressed a very game, very tough O’Neil in standup-only fight. It was a tremendous performance for a guy lots of people underestimate again and again. I’m not sure where he fits into the 170-pound division. I don’t think he is ready to stand up with guys like Georges St-Pierre, Thiago Alves, Josh Koscheck, Paulo Thiago or any other top-level guy. Then again, nobody has really gone from TUF alumnus to UFC rookie competing with the big boys, as mentioned above.
I’m sure the UFC will bring along Cope somewhat slowly, just like they have other guys in his position, though he will need to earn his keep with solid efforts each time out. After watching his performance on Saturday night, I’ll be watching with significant interest to see if he can develop into a contender. Whatever happens, I definitely enjoyed his performance against a guy I assumed would beat him.
NEW NICKNAME, PLEASE
After giving Cope some love in the paragraphs above, it’s time to give him a bit of a hard time.
“C-Murder”? Really? To quote NFL analyst Cris Carter, “C’mon man!”
Fans of hip hop probably remember the more famous C-Murder, Corey Miller, who was a very successful rapper, albeit for a very brief period. If they don’t recognize the name, he is the brother of Percy “Master P” Miller and uncle of Master P’s famous son, Romeo. C-Murder lived up to the moniker when he was convicted of second degree murder in 2009 for the 2002 slaying of a 16-year-old fan. The rapper also pled no contest to two separate counts of attempted second degree murder for a shooting outside a New Orleans nightclub.
C-Murder is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola.
Cope needs to do better.
KINGSBURY KEEPS ON KEEPIN’ ON
It is tough not to judge a book by its cover. Just about anyone who sees Kyle Kingsbury and Fabio Maldonado stand next to each other shirtless will assume that, if the two fought, the more well muscled, far leaner Kingsbury would be the one handing out the whuppin’.
It was Kingsbury who left the Octagon looking like he got jumped by a gaggle of baseball bat-wielding gang members.
Nonetheless, the former Arizona State football player came away with the win in one of the more entertaining scraps of the evening. Kingsbury used effective striking, particularly in the clinch, and excellent takedowns to win the first two rounds, before taking a pretty good beating in the third.
The win continued Kingsbury’s recent run of success, extending his current win streak to four. He is quickly putting himself into the mix at 205 pounds. A couple more wins and it will be time for a marquee matchup for this TUF alumnus.
Maldonado, by contrast, lost for the first time in nearly four years. Nonetheless, I don’t think the loss hurts his standing too much because this was one fun scrap to watch.