LAS VEGAS — Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee and have had plenty of time to get to know one another over the past few months. Ahead of the pair’s interim lightweight fight at UFC 216, Ferguson and Lee have squared off in a litany of verbal exchanges, from conference calls to faceoffs to joint interviews like their heated back-and-forth Wednesday which went viral.
And when it comes to the fight before the fight, Ferguson is more than pleased with how things have gone ahead of the biggest contest of his professional life.
“I know how to beat bullies like that. You squash them verbally,” Ferguson said Thursday at UFC 216 open workouts. “And the one thing is, if you have a brain, you can use it. You don’t have to use aggression to squash somebody. You have to use your brain. You have to be smart out there. You’ve gotta be smart, you’ve gotta use your wits. Wits always win, man, in the battle of brain versus brawn.”
In that regard, Ferguson may actually be onto something, as Lee admitted that he has grown weary of the war of words between the the two lightweight contenders.
“He’s a weirdo,” Lee said bluntly. “Like I said, I hit you with facts. He comes up with all these scenarios in his head. I told him, you’ve gotta stop smoking whatever it is you’re smoking, bro, because I don’t know. I just let him do what he do. He talking about ‘I’m a fake’ and all of this, but let’s be honest, the man’s a Mexican from Michigan, he can’t even speak Spanish. So it is what it is, he’s a weird dude. I don’t really like going back and forth with him. It’s frustrating.
“I think you can even see it on my face, because I’m just like, ‘Bro, what are you talking about?’ They asked him a question about McGregor and he’s bringing up some — I don’t even think he’s really listening. It’s just, he’s a weird dude and it’s hard talking to stupid people a lot.”
Ferguson’s style is unusual, that much is certain, both inside the cage and out.
The 33-year-old TUF veteran has rampaged his way into a No. 1 contender spot on the strength of a sensational nine-fight win streak in the UFC’s stacked lightweight division, a feat unmatched by any of his 155-pound peers. That run includes destructive wins over big names like Edson Barboza and former UFC champion Rafael dos Anjos, and so far Ferguson’s highly unorthodox movements and angles have yet to be truly figured out.
That being said, Lee is riding a nice five-fight streak of his own, and he confident that he has the long-awaited answer to Ferguson’s riddle.
“With him, it’s not even so much of a technical thing. It’s his mindset that drives him through a lot of these fights,” Lee said. “He’s in the fights, he’s getting hurt, but he comes back and he’s hurting other guys, and he’s able to weather them storms. So I’m going to bring a hurricane to his ass, and I don’t think he’ll be able to weather it. I think the first round is going to go terrible for him, the second round is going to go terrible for him, all the way through the fifth.
“I feel like I’m built for five rounds, I’ve always said it. I think all my fights should be five rounds. So from here on out, they will be, because I’m a smarter fighter. I go back to the corner, I reassess. If I have a tough round, I start the next one and it’s going to be smart, so the more time I get in between the corners, the stronger that I’m going to get, the more I’m able to dissect guys, and you see it in all of my fights.”
Unsurprisingly, Ferguson laughed at the suggestion that his style was not a technically intelligent one. And given his success, the proof appears to be in the results.
“It’s very intellectual. The reason why you guys say it’s weird is because you don’t understand it,” Ferguson said. “It’s f*cking genius. Let me tell you, it’s so far past your guys’ heads it’s not even funny, because this is the next stage in everybody’s evolution. I’ve been working on this since 2008; actually, before that. I said I had a double doctorate in athletics, I’m working on my triple.”
Ferguson also brushed aside Lee’s suggestion that the interim lightweight title on the line at UFC 216 represented the real UFC lightweight belt, rather than a second-fiddle prize diminished by the golden strap currently held by Conor McGregor.
Ferguson’s reason? He doesn’t think Lee even has the right to make such claims yet.
“Whatever he’s going to think, if it’s the real lightweight title or whatever it is, this kid hasn’t earned the right to talk,” Ferguson said. “Not one bit.
“You guys deserve a better me, man. I’m primed. I’m the best. But it’s hard when you’ve got a knucklehead like Kevin Lee that wants to just keep pushing that button. So for me, I have to be a captain of the team, and this guy wants my spot on that team. He wants that varsity spot. So I’m going to treat it like it’s a competition, not a fight. I’m going to go in there and give him a T.F. — an old Tony Ferguson technical fall. I’m going to outpoint him then I’m going to pin him.”