Tony Ferguson blows up the UFC as Michael Chandler raves about it

The similarities between Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson are obvious. They are still elite fighters, at the championship level, despite being up there in age now and on the last nine of their careers.

The loser of their lightweight bout on the main card of UFC 274 on Saturday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Ariz., can probably kiss a future title shot goodbye, while the winner at least remains in contention.

Their approaches, however, are so drastically different that it’s almost as if they’re in different universes.

Chandler, who has spent most of his career fighting for Bellator, can barely contain his giddiness at being in the UFC. You don’t even have to push him to let loose a series of superlatives about the promotion and its staff.

He raves about how he was treated, from UFC President Dana White to Hunter Campbell, the company’s chief commercial officer, to the general staff.

“I love this sport, I really love it,” Chandler said when asked if it would be hard to watch Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje, the men who beat him last year, fight for the belt in Saturday’s main event. “I love the opportunities the UFC has given me since I signed with the organization. I walked in and said to Hunter Campbell, ‘I want to be a good thing for your organization.’ I’m going to say, ‘Yes.’ And I’m going to go out there and do great performances. And I think I’ve tried to do that every time.”

Tony Ferguson looks on before facing Beneil Dariush in their lightweight bout at UFC 262 at Toyota Center on May 15, 2021 in Houston. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

At the UFC 262 pre-fight press conference last year, when Chandler fought Oliveira for the vacant title and Ferguson met Beneil Dariush on the undercard, Ferguson berated Chandler and said the one of the great replicas of all time.

He was complaining about not getting his shot and was unhappy that Chandler, then in his second UFC bout, was fighting for the title.

“You were handed that shit,” Ferguson told Chandler, who was seated at the opposite end of the dais. “You have Dana White privilege.”

But on Wednesday’s media day, when a reporter joked about it, Ferguson was in no laughing mood. He hasn’t fought since UFC 262, when he was beaten by Dariush to suffer his third straight loss.

He leaned on the UFC and White in particular, complaining about pay and said White ran the company like a drug kingpin.

“I don’t think that s*** is very funny,” Ferguson said when the White privilege line was brought up. “You may be. I don’t think that’s very funny. Everyone looks at him, they smile and laugh but no one says shit.

“I’m the one with Dana Brown privilege or whatever you want to call it. I don’t think it’s very funny anymore. I don’t think you should think that’s very funny. So I take this weekend very seriously. So I’m gonna kick that Dana White boy’s ass.

Ferguson then moved on to the UFC’s compensation structure. It’s been a repeated topic over time and Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza spoke about it again recently when he chastised UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman for looking for a match. boxing with Canelo Alvarez.

Espinoza found himself in the middle of a Twitter beef between Alvarez, Usman and Usman’s manager Ali Abdelaziz, raising a pay disparity issue. High-end boxers earn far more than the majority of high-end fighters in the UFC, although the UFC has a thriving middle class of fighters that doesn’t exist in boxing.

“UFC fighters want this boxing payday but don’t understand that boxers have the autonomy to choose their opponents,” Espinoza tweeted. “It’s not about not wanting to ‘smoke’. It’s a matter of professional self-determination, a concept foreign to those who let the kickboxing instructor choose his fights.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 06: Michael Chandler prepares to fight Justin Gaethje in their lightweight bout at the UFC 268 event at Madison Square Garden on November 06, 2021 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Michael Chandler prepares to fight Justin Gaethje in their lightweight bout at UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden on November 6, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

There is no doubt that the UFC regularly puts out better, deeper and more even cards than any boxing promoter. It is indisputable. But it’s equally indisputable that fighters like Alvarez make the kind of money, in the tens of millions, that even makes McGregor jealous.

Ferguson, who has long been one of the division’s top talents, lashed out at the UFC and at White in a lengthy rant on Wednesday.

“I think we’re underpaid, personally,” Ferguson said. “I’m going to be real. I’m not going to say too much. Dana said something the other day… talking about how boxers are overpaid. I asked Dana to box. He said, ‘F*** no.’ I’m like, ‘Why? I want to go play baseball, I want to do other professional sports. I am an athlete. I grew up playing different professional sports at a very high level. I won a state football championship. We were 27-1. I come from Grand Valley State University as a wrestler. I want to go wrestling. I have Uncle Brock [Lesnar] who is just there looking at me.

“I want to do all these things, but I have this guy here acting like a fucking drug dealer, telling me I can’t do this shit. I want to earn more money for my family.

Ferguson is expected to make around $500,000 on Saturday to face Chandler, not-so-bad payday for a guy third from the top on the card on a three-game losing streak.

The answer to the dilemma, of course, is simple. A fighters union would be the best bet if it had the majority of fighters involved and backed by it. But because the fighters are independent contractors with vastly different interests, it’s hard to get top stars to support organizing efforts. And without top stars, the union has no teeth, which is why attempts to unionize fighters have repeatedly failed in the UFC.

Ferguson and Chandler will be long gone by the time a union comes to the UFC, if it ever does.

But although they are gone, they will be remembered fondly for as long as MMA fights are still alive.

For despite their differences in approach, there have been few more exciting fighters than Tony Ferguson and Michael Chandler. A match between them is one that should blow him out of the water and will be talked about for ages.

With, of course, the fierce and ongoing dispute over fighter pay.

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