Justin Gaethje doesn’t believe Tony Ferguson was ever an elite lightweight.
Ferguson’s impressive 12-fight winning streak in the lightweight division came to an end last year after suffering a fifth-round TKO defeat to Gaethje in the UFC 249 headliner in May.
“El Cucuy” notably took over 100 significant strikes to the head until his body couldn’t take no more. He returned to action at UFC 256 last month against Charles Oliveira with many eager to see how he would respond to his first defeat since 2012.
However, Ferguson would end up getting dominated by Oliveira over three rounds on his way to a unanimous decision defeat.
As a result, many observers — including some of his own fans — believe Ferguson is done at the highest level.
Not Gaethje. However, he never felt Ferguson was an elite lightweight to begin with, either.
“I mean, Tony has always been that man,” Gaethje told ESPN when asked if he thought he was done. “Guys constantly went in there and fought in the chaos and refused to create space. I don’t know why, [Anthony] Pettis and [Donald] Cerrone, these guys weren’t able to do what I did. But I think that was there the whole time.
“Fans not being there really helped, stayed focus, keep everything internal. That’s a huge factor when you’re fighting Tony because just his face alone makes you wanna fight. I don’t think he’s done by any means, I just don’t think he’s an elite lightweight. I don’t think he ever was. I just think his skills were really effective in the way people were fighting him.”
That doesn’t mean Gaethje is playing down Oliveira’s win over Ferguson.
That said, like Nurmagomedov stated last year, Gaethje believes no fighter will be the same after taking the damage Ferguson took at his hands.
“I was impressed with Oliveira but yeah, I don’t want to take anything away from him but Tony was not the same person,” Gaethje added. “No one’s going to be the same person after you get hit in the face that many times. Ever.
“You fight with less confidence and his confidence is something that made him so dangerous and his lack of confidence now is going to be a factor.”
You can watch the full interview below: