Many in the combat sports world were quick to speculate what led to Tony Ferguson’s 12-fight winning streak coming to an end against Justin Gaethje at UFC 249 this past weekend.
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Was it simply Ferguson, who for some observers, appeared off his game, getting old as he turns 37 next year? A bad matchup against arguably the hardest hitter in the division? Could the unnecessary extra weight cut last month have played a role as UFC president Dana White suggested? Or was it simply just not his night while Gaethje delivered the performance of his career?
All we can do is speculate for now. But there is one more potential factor that may have played a role — Ferguson overtraining for the fight.
Overtraining is a serious problem in mixed martial arts. It’s when a fighter puts in too much work over a period of time which ultimately affects their performance when it’s time to compete.
It’s something that former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos claimed affected him in his rematch with Cain Velasquez in 2012.
Before his win over Anthony Smith at UFC Jacksonville, Glover Teixeira revealed he was overtraining during the period where he alternated between wins and losses from 2016 to 2018. He fixed that issue when he was at the UFC Performance Institute and is now on a four-fight winning streak at the age of 40.
Teixeira notably revealed he had a feeling he was overtraining, but it’s not easy to identify for everyone.
“It can be a difficult thing to recognize for both fighters and coaches,” former UFC fighter Kenny Florian previously wrote. “Having a bad day at the gym doesn’t automatically mean overtraining. Both fighter and coach needs to be aware of what is ‘typical’ in a fighter’s performance and be truly honest with each other when diagnosing the problem.”
Now let’s look back to the first thing Ferguson said in his post-fight interview.
“Man, it’s been a long f*cking camp. I’ll be real. We’ve been preparing since November. … Just a long camp, the weight cut had nothing to do with it.”
Ferguson had been preparing since November which is when his lightweight title fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov on April 18 was announced. Assuming he began his camp right after, that’s over five months of continuous training for a single fight. Fight camps are usually six to eight weeks long.
Add in the fact that he trains like a maniac even when he doesn’t have a fight booked — with Jeremy Stephens previously claiming the pair trained for six hours a day together — along with the mental effects of having the fight called off for an unprecedented fifth time, Nurmagomedov being replaced by Gaethje before that fight was also called off before being rebooked, and it’s very possible Ferguson found himself burned out.
Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, who was training up to four to five times a day since 2014, felt burned out as well which is why he pulled out of his UFC 248 fight with Jared Cannonier.
“Because you can’t have doubts,” Whittaker said when asked why he didn’t tell his coaches about how he was feeling. “You can’t say ‘hey, maybe I’m burnt out’. As soon as one fight is over, you have another title fight on the way.
“So the negative thoughts, you block them out. You bite down on your mouthguard and work through. … But again, mentally I was burnt out. And you can only do that so long before you wind up in a fight below your mental best.”
Ferguson’s boxing coach Rashad Holloway recently gave an interview revealing how Ferguson wasn’t his usual self and didn’t stick to the game plan at all times, though he did give credit to Gaethje for contributing to that.
What was more telling, however, was what he said towards the end of the interview.
“I think at this point, Tony needs a mental break from this sport,” Holloway said. “Just to be normal, not deal with all the politics and the headaches of it, the physical part of it.
“I think after a couple of months of resting, no working out, we can go to the gym and have some fun. Just have some fun working out. … Just have fun, not really prep for a fight but just have fun and take a break and fall in love with the sport all over again. It’s a lot of pressure when you’re undefeated for so long and you’re looked at as the marquee guy. Now it’s like the weight’s off his shoulders and he can be normal again.”
If it is indeed a case of Ferguson overtraining, it certainly sounds like his camp is aware of it.