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Stripped interim champ Tony Ferguson agitated ahead of UFC 229

Tony Ferguson faces a tough test on Saturday at UFC 229 when he takes on former champion Anthony Pettis. Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- Tony Ferguson speaks like he moves. He's choppy, unpredictable and, frankly, a little all over the place.

But if you're willing to invest just a little effort into following his occasionally erratic way of communicating, you might see what he's getting at.

During a 30-minute media scrum at the UFC's headquarters this week, Ferguson (23-3), who faces Anthony Pettis at UFC 229 on Saturday, was angry and combative with reporters one minute and fondly talking about his favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle the next.

One got the sense Ferguson, 34, is not happy about some of the UFC's decisions involving his career this year and wishes to get that message across, but has to fight his natural urge to be positive and upbeat in order to do it.

"I'm just here because I have to be here," Ferguson said as he started off the group interview. "[The UFC] took my belt. They took a bunch of zeros from my paycheck. How do you think I f---ing feel? It's all fun and games, right?

"People want to call me weird, 'cringey.' People want to use my s--- and not give me credit. F--- you guys. Straight out."

Saturday's main event lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0) and Conor McGregor (21-3) has the entire sports world talking, but if there's one person who has a reason to hate that fight, it's Ferguson.

Ferguson was supposed to face Nurmagomedov at UFC 223 in April, in what would have been the biggest fight of his career. However, he was forced to pull out the week before when he suffered a serious knee injury in a freak, tripping accident inside a television studio.

He was the interim lightweight champion at the time, thanks to a 10-fight win streak, but the UFC opted to strip him of the belt when his injury occurred. It doesn't matter that Ferguson managed to return from the injury five months after surgery, an accomplishment he's clearly proud of. That belt is gone for now.

"It took one physical therapist, one person I had to meet after my surgery, to give me a condescending handshake," said Ferguson, on his quick recovery. "I said, 'F--- that dude.' They told me six months to a year. I said, 'You know what? I'm going to do it in four.'

"I work hard for my stuff. And even when I work hard for my stuff, it gets taken away -- which is cool. It's alright. You can't take my smile. And you won't."

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Ferguson is arguably the best lightweight in the world, with such a high level of mental strength and work ethic he is basically defying science by returning to competition this soon post-surgery. And yet, he's living in the shadow of Saturday's main event, with presumably no guarantee he'll even face the winner. That's why Ferguson is angry, even if it doesn't come natural for him to communicate it.

"I'm preparing for that dude who's hungry, who doesn't get the shot, who doesn't get the notoriety or the media, because I'm that guy," Ferguson said. "Someone's going to have to prepare a hell of a lot harder for me."