Injuries are prevalent in all sports, but in mixed martial arts, the athlete needs the recovery and rehab time to be as quick as possible, because there is no continuing pay during the down time. We have just entered an era where the UFC has instituted fighter insurance, to cover injuries incurred during training, as well as the ones incurred during a bout. While not a perfect solution, it is a step in the right direction, and no other competing organization has such programs in place. This insurance program can mean the difference in saving or ending a career.
When UFC lightweight and The Ultimate Fighter Season 13 winner, Tony Ferguson competed last, more than 18 months ago, he sustained an arm fracture in the second round of his contest with Michael Johnson. Rather than throw in the towel, Tony decided to trudge through till the final bell. He was operated on to repair the break in the days following the fight, however, the surgery wasn't a success, due to the small size of the plate that was attached to the bones in his arm.
When his home base camp, Death Clutch finally closed its doors, Ferguson packed up and moved to Southern California, and sought a fresh medical opinion on his injured arm, which continued to give him problems. After a new series of diagnostic exams, he decided to have another surgery to address those ongoing problems. Now, after a lengthy layoff, El Cucuy is ready to enter the octagon again tonight. I conducted a brief interview where he discussed his arm issues and lengthy recovery, lessons learned after his last fight, and what he thinks it takes to be a real star in the largest MMA organization. Here's what he had to say:
Since my fight with Michael Johnson, where I broke my arm in round two of the fight, it's been crazy. It felt like a football injury. It was like icy cold, but with a lot of pressure. I ended up just sucking it up, and bit down on my mouthpiece till the fight was over. After the fight, all I could think of was, ‘I hope I won't be sidelined forever.' I just wanted to be able to compete again.
The first surgery...the doctor ended up putting a steel plate in my arm, but the plate was the size of a staple. It wasn't what we needed to actually go back and compete. The rehab process had plateaued around the 70% mark. I ended up having to get a second opinion for another surgery. By then, I was already deciding to move camps because I had to find a place that would help push me and perfect my game.
Me and my wife ended up moving over to Orange County. Dr. Kessler, who is the OC Fight Doc, looked at my slides and then referred me to Dr. Mora. We went there and he told me that I needed to get a sturdier plate in my arm if I wanted to keep competing. I wasn't sure about having the first surgery, and here I am about to have another one, and a six month layoff.
They reassured me this was the right way to go, so we went forward with it. Everything turned out awesome. The recovery process was great because Dr. Kessler and Dr. Mora worked hand in hand to guide me through my rehab. Dr. Kessler told me, ‘Bring your mouthpiece because we've got some hard work ahead of us.' He threw the whole kitchen sink at me [laughs]. The rehab was long, extensive and painful at times, but it made me tougher. The octagon is where I belong, and Dr. Kessler and Dr. Mora ended up getting me where I needed to be.
I feel like I have a lot better backing this time around. I've got great management, good rehab and outstanding doctors. I had a nutritionist making sure that I was on point with my diet and supplements. There has literally been no second guessing for anything leading up to my fight. I had a mental conditioning coach, and my management has been hand in hand with me, like a part of my family. The people that I've surrounded myself with have been amazing. I train at Reign Training Center, I do my boxing out of American Boxing and my jiu-jitsu with 10th Planet. The move out here has been perfect. We've gone 10 steps forward.
I needed to surround myself with top, Grade A athletes, and that's exactly what I've done. They've reminded me to get back to my roots, which is wrestling, and the teamwork ethic there has just been incredible.
Nerves After Long Layoff
My arm is stronger than ever. I'm doing pull-ups and everything I was doing before. Mentally, physically, emotionally... I'm just stronger. When you go through some kind of battle like that, it just makes you tougher. You'll have to kill me inside that cage to make me lose.
As far as being nervous, I might be for a second or two, but we're going inside a cage where another dude wants to try to kill me [laughs]. It's gonna happen. When we get in there, there's nobody else going to save him, though. It's just me and him, and I'm 150% now. I'm exactly where I need to be. I'm fighting a guy nicknamed Wolverine, so I'm considering myself to be Magneto [laughs].
I have a steel plate in my arm and that baby is not going anywhere. People might assume that it's my weaker arm now, but trust me, it's not. I've been hit in the arm all through camp, and I'm still choking people out with it, no problem at all. I'm hitting people hard and who knows, it might even help me.
When I fought Johnson, I was already plateauing at the camp that I was at. I didn't have the necessary people that I needed to train with. I was of the mindset that nobody could beat me but me, and that's exactly what happened, I ended up beating myself.
What I should have done was get those Grade A, top level competitors to train with, that could have kicked my butt in the room, so when I went into the octagon, I would have been better prepared. He knew I was going to box him, so he kicked my arms to weaken them up, and it was the greatest thing that he could have done.
For me, that was my biggest mistake, so I fixed it by moving camps. Now I'm in a place where I'm learning new things and being challenged constantly. That's the thing about me; I always fix my mistakes. I never make the same mistake twice. If you catch me slipping one time, good for you, but it ain't gonna happen again.
Two Year Plan
In two years, I see myself already with that belt. I want to be back on that road to gold and it starts with Mike Rio. When I started fighting pro, I quit my job because I knew I needed to do this. This is something for myself and for my family. It's for everybody that's ever helped me and given me the opportunity to do the thing that I love to do, fight for the UFC. Twelve pound of gold wrapped around my waist? I can see it. New lightweight champion? Hell yeah, that's me right there.
Financial Hardship During Layoff
I had to hustle. It was hard, but I had my wife there to help me out. She's been there since day one and has been my biggest supporter. I've had a couple clients here and there at the gym, but you know, you've got that struggle.
When I first started fighting, it wasn't the easiest thing. I didn't have all the money in the world. I was eating Subway once in a while, some packets of oatmeal here and there. It wasn't that bad, but it's because I was fortunate and had good people there to support me. I also know how to survive off a dollar, and that's basically where I started. I know where I come from, and I know where I'm going.
When I was fighting for smaller organizations, I got injured and didn't have a way to get it taken care of. This time when I got injured, the UFC took care of me. It was up to me to find the right doctors, and they took care of everything after that. I'm very thankful for that. I'm glad that I'm employed by the UFC.
A lot of people like to trash talk, but I don't. I like to use my movements inside the cage to do my talking. I do like to hear the stuff other people talk so I can laugh about it. We have to represent ourselves in the best way we can. We have gyms to represent and we have little ones watching us, so it's hard to talk crap, because we've got to set good examples for those little kids.
I like to make funny statements. I don't do it at anybody's expense, it's just to get laughs. One time he (Rio) said he was rolling with black belts, so I went into my closet, and got out every single one of my black belts, I even grabbed a white on [laughs], and I wrapped myself up in them and took a picture. I put it up on my Twitter and said I was rolling with black belts, too. That's as close as I get to talking crap.
All I can say is that it's going to be an exciting fight. One of us is going to come out victorious, and I hope that it's going to be me.
I used to be managed by Brock Lesnar's manager, and he was great, just like family, but when Death Clutch was disintegrating, and I departed from there, I let friends take the reins with my management, and it was probably the worst thing I could have done. Nobody was doing anything, and nobody really knew how to manage me.
I was referred to Paradigm, and this time, I was careful. I used to be a guy that would just sign on the dotted line right away, but I waited, and took my time and looked through everything. I brought my wife in and we all talked together. I was surrounded with the best vibes. That team there is amazing, and they treat me exactly like family. They were helping me before I actually signed with them, and that says a lot.
I'm very fortunate to have found these guys. They've made such an impact on me financially. I have a strong set of sponsors and am in a much more secure place. They've put me in a very good place in my life and I'm just in a constant state of amazement that there are teams out there like this that really do take care of their athletes.
You can follow Tony via his Twitter account, @TonyFergusonXT