Tony Ferguson was not pleased in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's TKO of a fighter whom I believe was Donald Cerrone. It's hard to tell for sure if it was "Cowboy" in there with him at the end, as the bloody, bloated face was barely recognizable. Yet Ferguson was in no mood to admire his grotesque handiwork.
Ferguson even seemed angry that the bout was halted after the second round when the cageside doctor diagnosed the obvious: Cerrone's closed right eye could not see a thing -- certainly not the relentless punches, elbows and kicks that Ferguson would have been throwing his way if they went into Round 3.
So it was over. Suddenly. A fight that fans had so much been looking forward to -- for many of them even more than the two championship bouts to follow on the UFC 238 bill in Chicago -- came to an end with a twinge of anticlimax hanging in the air. That's how it is sometimes when a bout is waved off between rounds, with the fighters sitting on their stools for a spell rather than being in the midst of launching violence at each other. And Ferguson was feeling the discontent.
"Yeah, I had my head down. I heard the boos," Ferguson said at the postfight news conference. "I think more than anything else, the fans wanted another round. And honestly, I would have gave them another round, too."
There's always next time. Whenever Ferguson is inside the Octagon next, he should have an opportunity to impress himself more and do so on a more spotlit stage. He just has to wait for his opponent to be determined.
That clarity should come on Sept. 7, when Khabib Nurmagomedov puts his lightweight championship on the line in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, against Dustin Poirier. Ferguson has to get next after what he did Saturday, right?
"I got 12 fights in a row, man," Ferguson said, referring to the longest active winning streak in the UFC. "I should be calling the f---ing shots. I don't know what else I have to do in this division to keep after it, man."
Ferguson has done plenty. Speaking just to Saturday's win, it's no small accomplishment to break Cowboy, who had won three fights in a row and is not the man you want to run into while your career is teetering in uncertainty. And while it's true that Cerrone's spirit remained intact and contained plenty more fight when the bout ended, his body was in no condition to continue after what Ferguson wrought upon it in a relentless second round.
Those brutal five minutes did end with some measure of controversy, though, as Ferguson landed a straight right hand on the nose a full second after the horn had sounded. Referee Dan Miragliotta issued what he called a "hard warning" but did not take a point.
Did it even matter? The punch did come right before the swelling around Cerrone's right eye got out of control, and a fighter trying to clear an airway by blowing his damaged nose can cause such swelling. But short of a disqualification, which would have been an overreaction by the ref, this fight was going into the record book as a TKO no matter what.
The bizarre finish seemed to play a role in Ferguson's sour mood right afterward in the Octagon, but by the time he made it to the UFC 238 postfight news conference a couple of hours later, his frame of mind had lightened considerably. When asked about his immediate future, Ferguson referred to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov as "Tiramisu" and Conor McGregor as "McNuggets." He was jovial, which lay in contrast to his surliness right after the fight and even during the build earlier in the week.
At one point at the news conference, Ferguson opened his suit jacket to reveal a lining with the words "Champ S--- Only" sewed in. "My tailor's pretty cool," he said.
That the narrative now surrounding Ferguson has to do with weighing his various big opportunities -- title bout? money fight? -- is a dramatic turn of events. He had not competed in eight months prior to Saturday. In March, his wife filed for a restraining order, which has since been withdrawn.
"A lot of people were counting me out," Ferguson said. "They weren't counting on me to come back strong, come back anytime soon actually. I made it a point in my head, I told myself: You're gonna walk in there with your head held high, and you're gonna walk out the same way as you walked in."
That's not entirely true. Ferguson walked into the Octagon on Saturday as a bit of a mystery, and he walked out as the clear No. 1 contender-in-waiting at lightweight.
"If Dustin Poirier don't do it," he said, "I'm going to do it, man. Tiramisu needs an ass whooping."
Ferguson's time is upon him. Almost. He acknowledged that while a lucrative date with McGregor could lie ahead down the road, for now he has his eye on the championship that has eluded him. He sounded prepared to wait in the short-term in order to benefit his long-term legacy.
"I don't feel like Superman, but I feel like I'm just getting better, man," he said. "Not even like wine, because that stuff gets stale, too. I just want to keep getting better, and I want to see how far I can take this mixed martial arts thing, man. And really, really hold onto that title for a long, long time."