It gets said from time to time that mixed martial arts, the fastest-growing phenomenon in the sports world, requires its athletes to evolve with it. At one time, they could get away with strictly adhering to one style only, but once men like Pat Miletich and others began cross-training to adapt to those styles, it forced other martial artists of that era to transform their one style into a blend of multiple styles. Now, many in the MMA world understand that making it in the sport means adding multiple dimensions to their game.

The Ultimate Fighter 13 winner Tony Ferguson serves as one of those people. He came into the UFC with a solid wrestling background, a strong boxing game and a penchant for finishing fights. In 2011, he entered the TUF reality series with a 10-2 record, and ultimately went on to defeat Ramsey Nijem at the finale event in order to win the season. Fast forward to the present day, and Ferguson has evolved with the sport in such a short time, proving himself to be a different mixed martial artist from the man the world saw back in 2011. Part of that evolution came about some time ago, when the Oxnard, Calif., native made the move from Ventura to Orange County, got his cast off and was introduced to Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu.

“Ever since, man, I fell in love with no-gi jiu-jitsu,” Ferguson told The MMA Corner. “No pajamas in there, and just worry about what we need to do in the MMA game, and the one thing is, I listen. I’m not the guy to go out and do it one time, but when I do it one time, it’s embedded in my head and it’s in that toolbox.”

When Ferguson takes the skills that he picks up from practitioners like Bravo and hones them in training, he often hears his training partners and coaches tell him that he is ready for what lies ahead. Having that kind of reinforcement motivates Ferguson to push harder and prepare better for anything his opponents throw at him. Of course, in today’s MMA, preparing for opponents often means finding some way of leaving those opponents guessing what will come next.

“When you think that you have me, you don’t have me,” Ferguson explained. “When you think I’m about to do stand-up, I’m going to switch the game up. This is MMA now—I learned that from my fight with Michael Johnson. You can’t just go in there to box a person and knock them out. You can’t be one-dimensional in this game.”

A little over a year after the loss to Johnson, Ferguson got back on track with a submission win over Mike Rio. The victory came in just under two minutes of the first round, and eventually, all roads led Ferguson to UFC 173 this Saturday night in Las Vegas, where he meets Japanese veteran Katsunori Kikuno. Kikuno made his UFC debut with a unanimous decision win over Quinn Mulhern, and now the former Deep lightweight champion will face a step up in competition when he meets the TUF 13 winner.

MMA fans who knew about Kikuno prior to the Mulhern fight already were familiar with his mummy-like fighting stance and his Kyokushin karate background. Although he does own a black belt in judo, it has been his Kyokushin karate that has helped him secure 12 pro wins by some form of knockout.

When it comes to the “Crescent Moon” kick that Kikuno has perfected to a tee, Ferguson knows people have spent many a training camp preparing for that move. In preparing for Kikuno, Ferguson knew he might have to contend with that technique himself, so he took some time to train with the likes of Muay Thai expert and former California super-lightweight state kickboxing champion Tyler Wombles.

“That’s just been opening up my game, left and right,” Ferguson explained. “Just making sure I’m stepping up my game, because you can’t be one-dimensional in this sport. And, as far as Kikuno goes, I don’t know how his ground game goes, but from what I saw from his fight versus Mulhern, I wasn’t too impressed.

“I saw his ground game against Mulhern, and Mulhern didn’t do too much, man. I didn’t see him do too much in the jiu-jitsu game. He pulled a little bit of rubber guard, but he didn’t even do any underhooks to try and advance situations and positions from the bottom. You know, we’re talking about the MMA game, and you’re supposed to advance situations. This dude’s 6-foot-4, Kikuno’s about 5-foot-8—[Mulhern] should’ve been able to tangle him up.

“I’m not scared of this dude. A lot of people in the beginning, when they saw this fight, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be great!’ Yeah, this is going to be a great fight, but my hands are going to hit his face, and I’ve seen him drop before from those straight rights and left hooks.”

As well as Kikuno performs on the feet, Ferguson does see holes in the Japanese fighter’s style. Because of the changes Ferguson has made to switch up his own style, he knows what he must do to exploit those holes. Regardless of what the future holds for “El Cucuy,” fans will get to see a better version of the well-rounded lightweight than what they saw before.

“He’s got a lot of accolades underneath him. He’s a huge international star, but he’s never faced a guy like me. I’m Mexican, man. That just says it all. I got a lot of heart, I got a lot of pride and I’m never going to quit, man. I’m never going to give up. You’re going to have to kill me in there. I’m going to keep coming after him. I’m the scariest bogeyman he’s ever going to face. I’m ‘El Cucuy,’ bro.”

And just what is next for Ferguson, if he picks up the win over Kikuno?

”Practice on Monday, that’s what it is,” he said. “After a win over Kikuno, I’m going to go back to the gym; I’m going to do exactly what I do. I’m going to train my ass off and prepare for the next one, injury free. I’m going to stay confident, and I’m just going to keep going, one fight at a time, and Kikuno’s next.”

Tony would like to thank God, his wife, Paradigm Sports Management, GFX Sports, All Pro Science, his training partners, coaches and fans. Follow Ferguson on Twitter: @TonyFergusonXT

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.