Tony Ferguson will not fight Khabib Nurmagomedov or Justin Gaethje on Saturday night as was originally planned. But the UFC lightweight star says he still did a full weight cut and stepped on a scale Friday morning.
Ferguson made championship weight -- 155 pounds -- and showed the footage on Instagram. On a podcast Friday afternoon, Ferguson told ESPN's Ariel Helwani that he started the week at 179 pounds but wanted to cut weight as if the fight was still on, and he hit the mark Friday morning.
"It wasn't just for me -- it was for my team, man, and my sponsors and obviously for my family," Ferguson said. "And just the commitment to myself to follow through with the weight cut. ... To me that says a lot more for my stock. Saying that you know what, 'I'm gonna make weight; I'm not gonna miss weight.' I have what it takes mentally to go through this fight camp. It's gonna be awesome, dude. It was such a great experience."
George Lockhart, one of MMA's top weight-cutting gurus who works with Conor McGregor, among others, said that in general it is an unwise -- and even dangerous -- practice.
"Every time someone cuts there's usually a huge counter response from the body -- a bounce-back, you might say," Lockhart said. "A lot of fighters gain an excess amount of water weight and have a difficult time getting their hormones back to normal. The only time I want a fighter cutting is when it's absolutely necessary.
"Weight cutting itself isn't safe; repeatedly doing it makes it tougher each time. ... I have no idea how much he cuts or how he does it so I can't speak specifically to him, but as a rule of thumb, I would say doing an unnecessary cut would make cutting again more difficult if it has to be done soon."
Ferguson was originally slated to fight UFC lightweight champion Nurmagomedov for the title in the main event of UFC 249, which was planned for Saturday night. Nurmagomedov got stuck in his native Dagestan due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, so Justin Gaethje stepped in for an interim title bout with Ferguson on April 6. Three days later, though, the event was postponed. UFC president Dana White said ESPN executives asked him to "stand down."
Earlier this week, White said the UFC is targeting a return on May 9 at a location yet to be determined. Ferguson vs. Gaethje has been rebooked for the main event, White said. Ferguson said he has yet to sign anything for that date, but he's aware he might have to cut weight again in three weeks. He plans on continuing to train like he normally would.
"I've been dong the exact same s---," Ferguson said. "Everybody has been quarantined now, but I'm still living the same life. I'm still doing my thing, which is training and bettering myself every single day. My growth factor is f---ing huge right now, pardon my language. Literally, I feel great.
"For me to make weight and Justin Gaethje not to make weight, that's a chalk line right there. That's a chalk line versus any opponent I have. Any person that would make championship weight today was the smart one that's gonna compete on that card, that's still competing."
Ferguson said he shed about 13.4% of his body weight in four days. That's an above-average amount for a UFC fighter to cut, although not historically high. The UFC Performance Institute recommends fighters stay within 10% of their contracted weight class. And doing major weight cuts in relatively close proximity is uncommon and usually not recommended.
Paulina Indara, one of Ferguson's nutrition coaches, told ESPN that the 179 pounds was likely a "temporary" high point following Ferguson "enjoying himself after finding out the fight was pushed back." Quickly, Ferguson was back in the range of 166 to 168 pounds, she said.
"This is where he will live until the next fight week," said Indara, who works alongside Michelle Ingels with Perfecting Athletes, which specializes in combat sports nutrition.
Indara said it was Ferguson's choice to do this weight cut even though he didn't have to. She and Ingels told him that the most important thing would be for them to be in constant communication. During a regular fight week, they would be with him on site wherever the event was being held. But Indara and Ingels are in Florida during the pandemic and Ferguson is in Costa Mesa, California, which sometimes leads to calls as late as 3 a.m. ET.
"We have a tremendous amount of data on Tony," Indara said. "So when we were able to say, 'Are you ready? How do you feel?' we went through all the questions we normally would and then some. We said, 'OK, if this is what you want to do, we'll support you. We just have to keep in really, really close contact.' That's OK, because he's such a good communicator."
Ferguson said Indara and Ingles were "very diligent" and "clutch."
"It's f---ing crazy, man," Fergsuon said. "But I had to trust the process and I did it. I made it difficult for myself, but I'm glad I did. Because when I don't have to make it difficult for myself, then just watch out."
After light dieting and keeping up his heavy training schedule, Ferguson posted on social media that he was 163.6 pounds Thursday night. Indara said he did a workout Thursday night and woke up at 155.5 pounds.
"Any MMA fighter will tell you that when they have a really great workout, they're drenched in sweat," Indara said. "So you can see an athlete that trains one or two hours lose 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 pounds. So if he's staying around 165 or whatever, his body will naturally go up to -- his weight cut was just he had one great workout and he dropped the weight."
There is no concern about Ferguson being able to do the whole thing over again in three weeks, because he will stay in that mid-160s range, Indara said.
"He is very good at knowing that there is a possibility that he will have to weigh in on May 8 and fight on May 9, so he's not going to have that fat-kid experience that a lot of fighters have after the fight," Indara said. "Because they're like, 'Oh, I fought. Clearly, I'm not going to fight for several months and I'm gonna eat everything under the sun.' That's not the case here. He knows he has to be disciplined. Knowing that will keep him on track. So, we're not worried about it, he's not worried about it, his coaches aren't worried about it."
Ferguson said he's happy he cut the weight, even if only to give people "something to talk about." He said he might livestream an open workout Saturday since there are no fights for people to watch. Indara said she's hoping Ferguson rests his body a bit, as much as he will allow. But she knows he still plans on training every day.
Ferguson told Helwani that he has a workout scheduled Friday afternoon and then another Saturday. And that's after a 24-pound weight cut over just a few days.
"From 179 to 155, bro," Ferguson said. "I know how do to this. Let's f---ing go. Champ s--- only."