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UFC 216 Breakdown: Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson - The boogeyman’s top ten moves

Combat Course: Lessons from the cage examines Tony Ferguson’s most impressive moves. Learn from the pros in action.


UFC 216: Ferguson vs. Lee will take place this weekend and this is a great opportunity for us to examine the most effective moves Tony Ferguson employs in order to dominate his opponents.

“El Cucuy” overwhelms opponents with a frenetic, aggressive pace. He gets hit a lot in the process but he is always the one to throw the last punch. The secret of his success is his cardio in combination with his ability to “mix things up” making opponents fight while backing down.

This series focuses on competition tested techniques which can be used by trainers and athletes alike in order to raise their technical level. The following analysis can also help fans appreciate diverse approaches to the fighting game and enjoy fights more by identifying signature moves and what each fighter brings to the table.

UFC 181 - Ferguson v Trujillo Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

That being said, let’s start analyzing...

Technique #1

Opponent: Edson Barboza

Ferguson has a wrestling background as he went on to garner NCWA honors twice, winning the NCWA national championship in the 165 lbs division. He is one of the few wrestlers to embrace the grappling game in MMA by fighting of his back and attempting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu inverted moves. In the sequence above you can see him going from a wrestling shoot to a rolling/inverted kneebar attempt against Edson Barboza. This is a risky move against dangerous opponents but Ferguson cares more about the reward and goes for rolling attacks frequently.

It is interesting to study this attack from a grappler’s perspective. You can see how he uses the wrestling shoot to initiate the rolling attack, by extending his right arm in-front of his shooting leg and between Barbosa’s legs before inverting. Take a look at this clip/gif to examine this move in motion.

Technique #2

Opponent: Lando Vannata

Ferguson loves to use spinning back elbows. In his fight against Lando Vannata, Tony used the spinning motion of the elbow to defend against a left front kick from Vannata while landing the back elbow in the process. I must admit I have never seen this counter to a front kick in an MMA fight before.

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Technique #3

Opponent: Rafael dos Anjos

Elbows galore part 2. Ferguson misses with a right overhand against Dos Anjos, uses the momentum to go for a spinning back elbow and misses again. Rafael moves his head as if he is saying “these don’t work on me” and Ferguson jabs from a southpaw stance. Dos Anjos slips the punch and gets hit with a left spinning back elbow. Usually I teach students to attack with spinning back elbows when they miss with a left hook but this move is a great option for southpaws.

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Technique #4

Opponent: Gleison Tibau

Ferguson utilizes a very aggressive ground game going for D’arce chokes from a variety of positions. Here is the D’arce he used to submit Edson Barboza. Another great submission in his arsenal is his rear naked choke. In the sequence above he is able to get Gleison Tibau in a turtle position and puts both hooks in to get the back. Notice in photo 1 how Tony uses the right hamerlock control to flatten Tibau. In order to get back to his knees, Gleison has to post his left arm. In photo 4, both Tibau’s hands are occupied and his neck is left defenseless. Ferguson is able to get the neck and finish the choke.

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Technique #5

Opponent: Rafael dos Anjos

The sequence above is a nice Muay Thai exchange. Ferguson attacks with a left low kick from a southpaw stance and Dos Anjos attacks with a jab. “El Cucuy“ parries/pulls back, counters with a right cross and checks the distance with a jab. As I’ve noted before, overextending with a jab leaves you open for a right hand counter as bad posture compromises your ability to pull back.

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Technique #6

Opponent: Lando Vannata

Tony loves the superman punch by pushing his foot against the cage. Whenever he has his back against the cage you can see him touching the cage with his back foot checking the distance. In the sequence above you can see a clear depiction of this move. Lando Vannata goes for a front kick, Ferguson switches (photo 2), back-kicks the cage with his right foot and explodes forward landing a right superman punch. This is a very effective move for modern MMA.

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Technique #7

Opponent: Abel Trujillo

Superman-punch galore, part two. Against Abel Trujillo, Ferguson attacks with a left superman punch and slips a right cross counter attack by Trujillo. Notice in photos 2-3 how the foot switch helps Tony gain momentum. It is like going for a front kick, not land the foot on the ground and immediately go for a back kick. As the punch launches, his right foot goes forward using a skipping motion, thus closing the distance. MMA fighters should both use and encourage sparring partners to attack with superman punches as this is a very common and effective punch, often neglected by old school coaches.

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Technique #8

Opponent: Lando Vannata

Ferguson always finishes left kicks by going for a left jab. Notice in photo 2 how the jab is initiated before the left front foot lands on the floor. This tactic, in combination with his superman punches helps Tony make his offensive output very unpredictable and difficult to defend.

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Technique #9: Putting it all together.

Opponent: Rafael dos Anjos

Ferguson’s offensive game is a clear example of “mixing things up” in MMA. The sequence above is: superman punch - (left hook by RDA)- slip, right cross- left uppercut-step-left uppercut- right cross-left-kick -jab. As you can see Tony mixes aforementioned techniques such as a superman punch, a slip from a superman punch and a jab after a kick. This is an overwhelming output of offense. Also, you can notice how much distance he covers with this combo and his footwork, moving in angles left and right using a wide stance. If you combine this offensive skill-set with an unlimited gas tank you can understand how Tony Ferguson makes good fighters look bad.

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Technique #10

Opponent: Josh Thomson

I started this post with a rolling technique and I would like to finish it with one. Here is Ferguson going for a left knee which Josh Thomson was able to catch and go for a takedown. In order to defend, while in mid-air, Ferguson goes for a somersault-like roll and escapes. Please not that during scrambles, Ferguson is usually the first fighter to stand up and often attacks with a jab as soon as he gets back on his feet. This is a display of athleticism few UFC fighters possess and also the main reason Tony is one of my favorite fighters.

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About Kevin Lee

Grey Goose Le Melon Fruit of Kings - Las Vegas Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for UrbanDaddy

Kevin Lee is a great fighter, but he is facing a tough opponent in Tony Ferguson. Unless Kevin is able to get a quick KO or submission, Tony will probably take him into deep waters and drown him in the later rounds. Although I expect “El Cucuy“ to win, I am really excited for this fight. That being said, if Lee can get the win against such a tough opponent, I believe he can be the fighter to dethrone Conor McGregor as he is a very good wrestler with great submissions.

See you next week. For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.

About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).

Follow Kostas on Twitter: and search #fantmoves for more techniques.