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With Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson, it’s a delightfully ‘weird’ battle of eccentrics

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One of the things that has bothered Kevin Lee ever since his fight with Tony Ferguson got made is what he perceives as a difference in IQs. This has carried over to fight week, where the “Motown Phenom” has grown weary of trying to communicate with his angular counterpart.

“It’s hard talking to stupid people a lot,” Lee said in his post-workout scrum in Las Vegas this week, adding a little later of the peculiar fellow in question, “you can’t reason with stupid people.”

Lee was commenting on Ferguson’s frequently discursive, oft-times curious flights of fancy which — according to him — leaves everyone dumbfounded back at the hangar. It’s a peculiar set-up. Both of the principals in Saturday night’s main event at UFC 216 are hardly what you’d consider normal by any loose definition of the word. Yet Lee, who dresses like a street walking cheetah from the 1970s, sees a suave operator when he looks in the mirror, and nothing less than a kook in shades when he looks at Ferguson. Ferguson sees a loud-dressing charlatan when he looks at Lee, a deft hand of cunning and nothing more.

Perception can be a weird thing.

In fact, “weird” is the word Lee uses more than any other when talking about his Grand Valley State alum Ferguson. He calls Ferguson a “weirdo” for some of El Cucuy’s more delirious comments, such as the one that his unorthodox style being an evolved form of genius that may be too much for lay people to grasp.

“The reason why you guys say it’s weird is because you don’t understand it,” Ferguson said during his own media scrum. “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.”

Of course, the insults to be found in that particular powder keg are aimed at the slow-to-grips media, not so much Lee. Still, Lee hears what’s coming out of Ferguson’s mouth and he doesn’t find all of it comprehensible. In the fight game, the mouth is sometimes mightier than the fist; but in the case of Lee-Ferguson, mouths are more like amphitheaters for eccentricity. For this one, weird is the norm.

And you know what? It’s a bit under-the-radar and happening at a very unfortunate time in the aftermath of the Vegas shootings, but this has been entertaining. It’s been fun, and fulfilling, and onward.

Forget about Conor McGregor lording over the picture, Lee and Ferguson have been up to the task of one-upping each other’s strangeness from the word go. It all leads to a fistfight, which is as it should be. There’s a symbol attached to the fight in the form of an interim title, which is as meandering as the combatants themselves.

Everything for UFC 216 is fairly par for the course. Lee’s tiramisu habit nearly cost him 20 percent of his purse (he made weight dramatically), and Ferguson showed up to the ceremonial scale in ankle weights.

The smack talk has been golden, though, as evidenced — yet again — by a 10-minute back-and-forth volley on UFC Tonight, in which the kook was in shades on one half of the split screen, and the hustler in reptilewear on the other. They clashed like stripes on plaid.

“Don’t you guys want to see the fight after that?” Ferguson said when asked about the exchange the next day. “The caped crusader’s going down, man. I’m Mr. Incredible; we don’t wear capes.”

There’s that “weird” talk. First of all, Lee’s jacket was snakeskin for UFC Tonight, and from the looks of it a San Salvadorian Pantherophis obsoletus. There was no caped crusader. Secondly, if he’s Mr. Incredible, who’s this we? Is there a legion of lesser Mr. Incredible’s at large, in which Ferguson’s the grand poobah? Or is there a thousand Mr. Incredible’s inside Ferguson’s mind, and ain’t none of them imaginary bastards wearing capes?

Ferguson is one of a kind. He’s won nine fights in a row, and is legitimately the quietest (most eccentric) figure to creep into the P4P discussion. He doesn’t get along with Fabricio Werdum (and really at this point, who does?), and he takes no guff from no one. If somebody told me he was issued from Hell, I’d smile and nod. It’s possible he enjoys aspic.

Lee is that audacious fighter who seems to live up to the size of the moment. An increased spotlight after his Michael Chiesa breakout moment? He’s more than ready for it. Would he be ready for McGregor’s stratospheric mental games before a fight? You know he would be — in fact, he’d thrive. There are flashes of McGregor in everything he does, from the pomp on down to the results.

“This is a division full of bitches,” Lee said this week. “It really is.”

Sound familiar?

But McGregor doesn’t have to play an overshadowing role in this battle of contenders. It stands on its own for the weirdness of the stakes and personalities alike.


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