LAS VEGAS - Six months after shattering his left knee and undergoing major surgery, Tony Ferguson fought through blood, sweat and tears on Saturday to cement his dramatic comeback at UFC 229.
In a performance that was as brutal as it was inspiring, Ferguson (24-3) survived two rounds of hell against Anthony Pettis until a broken right hand caused the former champion's corner to throw in the towel before the final round of their lightweight duel at T-Mobile Arena. After surviving an outright war against Pettis (21-8) which left both fighters bloody, the 34-year-old Ferguson dropped to his knees in an emotional display
"There was no way he was going to get this f---ing title from me," Ferguson said. "You f---ing fans are f---ing amazing and I love you. I'm not going to talk. Thanks to the UFC and the fans and I'm f---ing back!"
Entering the bout on a 10-fight win streak and looking to propel himself into a title fight against the winner of the main event, Ferguson was relentless with strikes from various angles as he switched stances and confused Pettis throughout the opening round.
"Where you at, McNuggets, you f---ing piece of shit?" Pettis said, calling out Conor McGregor for stealing his title bout. "I'm going to kick your ass. If Khabib don't do it, I will. Son of a bitch, I'll give you a proper ass-whoppin' any day."
The fight quickly turned from a showcase for Ferguson's unique blend of high-speed violence into one of the most dramatic action fights this calendar year in Round 2 when Pettis stunned Ferguson with a right cross and floored him with a follow-up looping hook.
Ferguson was in a bad way with his back to the canvas and a cut spilling blood onto his face. A cut on Pettis' hairline also dripped over Ferguson's eyes as Pettis scored with punches from top position. But the attempt to finish Ferguson also left Pettis damaged.
"I broke my f---ing hand. The one I hit him with, I broke my f---ing hand, man," Pettis said. "I tried to put him away, it started hurting when I was throwing it. Ain't no f---ing excuses. Tony is a tough Mexican, bro, thanks for f---ing fighting."
The 31-year-old Pettis never backed down throughout a grueling fight and consistently attempted a variety of wild and almost absurd strikes to try and win the fight. From spinning back fists to cartwheel kick attempts, Pettis channeled his former "Showtime" days and forced Ferguson to use every drop of gas in his tank.
"I tried to put on a show for the fans and had a great time doing it," Pettis said. "That's a tough guy, bro. I hit him with a right hand; I felt my hand shatter. I'm like, 'Shit.' I should've choked him out.
"I can't wait to do it again."
Ferguson regained his feet and gained time to recover when referee Jason Herzog called time for the cage side doctor to check Pettis' cut, but "El Cucuy" began to mount a counter attack that turned the fight back around.
Ferguson routinely backed Pettis up with clean punches and opened another cut above his eye that flowed blood down his face. Pettis did his best to fight him off and landed hard counter shots, but Ferguson just kept coming and nearly stopped Pettis in the closing seconds of Round 2 before the stoppage between rounds.