‘How do you learn to die twice?’ – UFC Hall of Famer talks Tony Ferguson, difficulty retiring

Tony Ferguson appears to be at a serious career crossroads, whether he realizes it or not.

By: Zane Simon | 2 months ago
‘How do you learn to die twice?’ – UFC Hall of Famer talks Tony Ferguson, difficulty retiring
Tony Ferguson at UFC 279. IMAGO/USA TODAY Network

Daniel Cormier recently opened up the discussion on Tony Ferguson’s MMA career with some pretty reasonably thoughts on the future for the former UFC interim lightweight champion. Ferguson found himself on the wrong end of his sixth-straight loss at UFC 291, a 3rd round submission to Bobby Green. After the fight, ‘El Cucuy’ was steadfast in his belief that he had more fight left in him.

“…I think it might be time for [Ferguson] to either say to the UFC, ‘I want to keep fighting but the competition needs to go down,’ or go fight somewhere else,” Cormier said in a recent DC & RC episode. “He’s going to be mad at me about it, but yes, the fight’s still there. It just does not seem the body is able to respond in the way his mind is telling it to. So, I tap in (on Ferguson walking away).”

Of course, while DC has the advantage of a strong UFC career under his belt, for his platform to deliver that kind of advice, he’s also never really gone through the kind of hardship that Ferguson is experiencing. Cormier’s had his losses, but the moment he dropped two fights in a row, he stopped fighting; he never had to deal with the adversity of stepping down in competition or fading away from the sport he gave his best years. However, another former champ with more relevant experience has stepped up to offer his view on things as well.

Ex-UFC champ Jens Pulver weighs in on Tony Ferguson

Back in the early days of the post-NHB era of MMA, Jens Pulver shot to UFC stardom. Briefly a Shamrock disciple, Pulver quickly moved to Miletich Fighting Systems, becoming one of a slew of top end fighters to win major titles in the early 00s. After going 3-0-1 in a spotty series of UFC appearances between 1999-2000, Pulver fought Japanese MMA legend Caol Uno for the first ever lightweight belt at UFC 30.

‘Lil’ Evil’ went on to defend the title twice before leaving the UFC due to a contract dispute, eventually making his way over to PRIDE in Japan. Pulver made his return to the UFC in 2006, which is when everything started to go wrong. Over the next four years he went 1-8 fighting between the two ZUFFA properties, the UFC & WEC. By the time Pulver hit 2011, he was riding a six-fight skid all his own.

Even though Pulver went 5-5 in the two years following, his victories were almost exclusively over badly inexperienced, or .500-level journeyman competition.

It’s that kind of history that gave Pulver some extra insight on what Ferguson may be dealing with right now and how he should handle it.

“You’re trying to remember what it was like, not just to be a fighter, to be a world champion; to be one of the best fighters.” Pulver explained on a recent UFC Watch-Along. “Every other day, when you’re in your day-to-day, you feel good. And you’re like, ‘Where in the hell did it go? Where did it go!?’ And you try to figure that out. See, unlike in baseball, where you can go hit-less 6-7 times—17 times—in a weekend and then get your hit back, we have to do this once or twice a year. And you gotta be ‘on’ on those days, and you try to ask yourself, ‘Where did it go?’

“On top of the fact, why I would never tell anybody that they need to retire—because that’s you. You gotta figure it out. And I said it in my documentary: How do you learn to die twice? The athlete in all of us, the athlete dies at such a young age. Most people, when they retire, they’re in their high 60s and 70s. We’re not, we’re in our 40s and upper 30s, and just *grunts* hrgh. I feel physically—do you know what I mean? But you’re too old. You’re done. That’s it. And it’s hard to let that go.

“That’s what I would tell him,” he continued, “just like anybody else. Because you’re always like, well, we’ll go through the changing of coaches, we’ll go through the changing of our gameplan, we’ll go for this, we’ll go for this. And that was the problem when I was out there fighting. I was like, ‘Why am I getting caught with these little stupid things?’ And the reality was, because I was a step away from what I was before.

“What made me retire was just that I was tired of doing this to my family, I was tired of doing this to my fans, I was tired of doing this to my teammates, and having to apologize. So it was like, ‘Eh, I’m done.'”

“But that’s the one thing, especially on a losing skid, you want to some how just, ‘Let me get that win and get the hell outta here.’ And it just doesn’t. It doesn’t happen. But you’re trying. You’re like, ‘Let me get back in there, and try again.’ Unfortunately, it’s in five months. Or it’s six months.

“And you’re getting older, and that one don’t happen, and you’re like, ‘WELL SHIT!’ Next thing you know, you’re four fights in going, ‘I just need this one.’ But again, if it was a weekend at the baseball park, I’ve got five games, I’m at bat sixteen times. I can go hit-less in five of them. That’s not the game we play, and it’s tough.”

Pulver says nobody could have helped him retire

As tough as it was and as much as Pulver went through, however, he freely admits there wasn’t much anyone else could have done from the outside. Even if it might have been obvious to everyone else where he was at in his career, he had to get to the realization all on his own.

“No, and I’ll tell you why,” Pulver responded when asked by UFC featherweight Sodiq Yusuff if anyone could have said anything to help him retire. “Because I kept going through the little things of, ‘I just need to make these adjustments.’ I ate like shit. Here was my wife going, ‘Please just go to a camp. Go take your ass away, and go for four months, and get out of here.’ And this is how I knew I probably was done, I was like, ‘Nah, man, I want to be around my kids. I want to be around my family.’ And that’s when I knew. Because everything I did was to get to the family side of life.

“And then I held on to this guilt, which was, ‘Why am I not going and dedicating my life to this camp? Why am I not doing it?’ And that’s when I realized, ‘Yeah, you know what? I’m done.’ My wife was like, ‘You’re done. Unless you’re willing to make that ultimate sacrifice and take your ass and disappear for five months and get married into this? You’re done.’ And I wanted to be around my family, and I was done.

“And that’s the one thing you gotta figure out for yourself, is: How do you let it go? How do you let it go.”

Hopefully Ferguson figures out just where he’s at before he takes too much more punishment. At this stage in his career, his title aspirations would be historic stuff even if he still looked like a man in his prime. If he can’t refocus, it might take a lot more losing before he realizes his best days are behind him.

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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