With Tony Ferguson set to take on Beneil Dariush at UFC 262, again we see Tony, one of the most popular fighters in the division, facing off against someone relatively unknown to the average fan. This comes off his loss to Charles Oliveira in December which had a similar story leading into it. While Oliveira and Dariush are both incredible talents, they are not stars on the same level as the top of the division (at least before they signed to fight Tony).
When we look at the top names at 155, we see huge box office draws: Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Michael Chandler, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Conor McGregor. Any one of these fighters, including Tony Ferguson, could headline a Pay-Per-View. Since they are all the elite of the same division, however, more often than not, they are squaring up against each other. While this makes the lightweights incredibly popular, and the roster of 155ers is incredibly deep, it has become almost impossible to break into the top of the division unless you are a star. Or, someone gives you a shot.
We can look at Charles Oliveira’s story for example, with a seven fight win streak in almost any division, a fighter can expect to at least be in the conversation of getting the next title shot. Look no further than Leon Edwards: he had not competed in around two years, but he was still ranked #3 in the world, and on a short list to take on the dominant champ, Kamaru Usman, with an eight fight win streak (keep in mind, Leon had already lost to Usman beforehand as well). Before his fight with Tony, all but the most hard-core fans were calling for Oliveira to get a crack at Khabib. Now, he is set to face Michael Chandler for the vacated title. An opportunity he got over the likes of Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, and Conor McGregor.
Ferguson was well aware that fighting Oliveira was going to be a hard night, win or lose, and did not have to give him the opportunity. While Tony had just lost to Gaethje, he was 12-1 in his last 13 and was supposed to be fighting Khabib, so there was no doubt he deserved a top five opponent. No one was pressuring him to offer Oliveira the shot, but he took the risk and did anyway. Tony was in a dangerous situation going into the Oliveira fight: if he won, he only beat the #7 ranked lightweight which would not boost his credit with many fans, or bring him closer to the title. If he lost, he drops in the ranking and is even further from a getting another shot at the belt.
While the fight didn’t go Ferguson’s way, and he will never be thanked for it by Oliveira or the fans, Tony launched a real stud into the top of the hardest division in the sport, which is where he belongs.Now, at UFC 262, Tony is going to take the risk again. Dariush is an amazing fighter, and one of the best in the world, but to most fans, he is unknown. He has a very rare opportunity on May 15th to rocket himself into stardom, all because Tony gave him the chance.
Without fighters like Tony, divisions would stagnate and get stale; the top five or six fighters would round robin for as long as fans would buy the PPV, and some guys would get locked out of the top ten because they couldn’t get a big name to sign the contract. Tony is keeping the lightweight division fresh and helping talented guys get the popularity they deserve.
As fans, we owe a measure of gratitude to El Cucuy for giving a chance for some real fighters to get a shot at stardom, and keeping the competitive integrity of the sport alive.