It cannot be denied that every MMA fan was a little bit surprised when Dana White revealed during the UFC 278 post-fight press conference that Tony Ferguson, a fan favourite, would face Li Jing Liang. The 'Leech' was likewise flabbergasted when he learned that Ferguson wanted to compete at 170 lbs. While Jingliang competes at welterweight, Ferguson has previously competed at lightweight. Despite the change in division by Ferguson, Jingliang was excited to accept this challenge and accepted the bout right away.
Ferguson was on a four-fight losing streak when "El Cucuy" decided to switch weight classes to take on a welterweight. Ferguson had just suffered a devastating front-kick knockout loss to Michael Chandler at UFC 274 in May.
However, Jingliang recently spoke with Ariel Helwani of The MMA Hour about his thoughts on the mismatching from an outsider's perspective. He said “I was shocked I was like, Tony Ferguson wow. But my first reaction is like you want me to cut down to 155 or what Tony Ferguson [lightweight] that is impossible. That I was shocked,” he added. “It was a huge surprise to me. Then they told me No no, no. Tony is moving to 170, so I was like, okay that’s perfect, yeah, let’s go. I was surprised he will move up, I think it’s a challenging move up, but it’s also normal. A lot of 155ers, they move up to 170 and they do well.”
In July at UFC Long Island, Jingliang just achieved a huge victory. He overcame Muslim Salikhov to turn things around after losing to Khamzat Chimaev in a disappointing one sided defeat in the first round at UFC 267. Jingliang, a member of the promotion since 2014, is only ranked number 14 despite having 11 victories in the UFC.
Ferguson has earned the nickname "boogeyman" for good reason. He is tough as they come and no wonder, he has previously served as the interim lightweight champion. Li Jing Liang has shown tremendous respect to his next opponent and tells the people that they should not forget what Tony Ferguson has done for the sport and established himself as one of the scariest fighters to fight against despite his four fight losing streak. In an interview with MMA Junkie he said “For the people who say it like that – Tony Ferguson four losses in a row, never fought at welterweight – you forget who he is,” Jingliang told MMA Junkie through an interpreter on Monday. “He is Tony Ferguson. You forgot all those people whose face got cut by Tony Ferguson. Amazing fighters were choked by him. You should give credit to him. I believe if you fight against him, you would know how hard to deal with a guy like ‘El Cucuy’ is. You shouldn’t forget those fighters like Tony, who is a pioneer in the sport. You should give him respect.”
Ferguson's response to Chandler's knockout and whether his famed toughness can hold up after such a quick turnaround are the two greatest questions that remain to be answered.
Recently, Ferguson was spotted training along with working alongside striking coach Brandon Gibson at Jackson Wink MMA Academy, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brandon has also spent years training with former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones as well. The gym has had some notable names over the years like George Saint Pierre, Holly Holm, Rashad Evans, Frank Mir, and Michelle Waterson among its ranks. Ferguson himself claimed that his biggest need was to join a reputed team and work on insights from experienced coaches.
Will a change in his gym have a positive impact on his performance against Li Jing Liang or the ‘Leech’ will reign supreme come September 10th at UFC 279? Let us know in the comments!