Tony Ferguson's incredible journey toward his first full UFC title shot continued on Saturday, but not without a bit of controversy and theatrics. Putting recent personal and legal issues behind him, Ferguson unleashed a beating on veteran Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone on Saturday that left the crowd favorite with a bloodied and swollen face after two violent rounds at UFC 238 in Chicago.
Then came the wild finish.
A blatantly late right hand from Ferguson after the horn to end Round 2 left Cerrone wounded, but just as the fighters stood up to start the final round, Cerrone reflexively blew his nose, which instantly caused his right eye to grotesquely swell shut. A pair of cage side doctors called off the fight shortly after. Referee Dan Mirigliotta then called for Illinois commission members to look at a replay of Ferguson's late punch, which was ruled to have landed on Cerrone's nose and not his eye, giving Ferguson a TKO win.
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"Let them get their boos in," Ferguson said about the crowd, which threw objects into the cage as they booed in protest. "It's not how I wanted the fight to go. It has been a real emotional year. This is f---ing fighting in there, and there are a lot of emotions flaring. This is not how I wanted it to end."
Ferguson (25-3), whose wife filed a restraining order against him in recent months, extended his win streak to an incredible 12 fights to place himself on the doorstep of an elusive lightweight title shot. The 35-year-old former interim champion, who has overcome injuries and bad luck in recent years, now has the third-longest win streak in UFC history.
"We can do it again. I'm a f---ing fighter, I don't want to f---ing win like that," Ferguson said. "I'm a better person, and I'm a better fighter than that. I don't give a f--- who is next. I don't give two f---s. I'm going to go back and be mad at myself for a while."
Despite Ferguson's humility, this was a fight he appeared to be on the verge of scoring a stoppage in when the fight was stopped. He will likely face the winner of the UFC 242 bout between 155-pound champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim titleholder Dustin Poirier scheduled for Sept. 7 in Abu Dhabi.
The wild finish, however, brought an end to an emotional comeback for the 36-year-old Cerrone, who took the pursuit of a UFC title seriously for the first time in his career after recently becoming a first-time father. Despite holding many UFC records including most wins, Cerrone's quick turnaround just 35 days after defeating Al Iaquinta ended in disappointment.
"The punch had nothing to do with it," Cerrone said. "This was the fight everybody wanted, and I'm so sorry. I don't quit and I don't back down. I wanted to keep fighting, but I shouldn't have blown my nose. I'm a veteran and I shouldn't have done it. I apologize."
Cerrone appeared to get the nod in a very competitive opening round in which he was active with his jab and largely prevented the unorthodox Ferguson to get into a steady flow. But the second round saw Ferguson step up his output and begin to visually slow down and hurt Cerrone with a number of creative strikes to cause bleeding and swelling to his face.