Sunday, June 5, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
During the best moment of his life, Tony Ferguson willingly reflected on what he considered one of his lowest points.
The 26-year-old Ferguson knocked out Ramsey Nijem at the 3:54 mark of the first round Saturday at the Palms to win the 13th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” In his post-fight interview inside the octagon, Ferguson could have easily described his jubilation or bragged about the sheer power he once again displayed.
Instead, Ferguson alluded to a negative incident on the reality show that had defined him until the win over Nijem. Ferguson wanted to put a drunken personal attack on a fellow cast member behind him.
“I brought a lot of inner demons with me inside of there,” Ferguson said. “But what I tried to do was fight them and leave them out there. From here on out, I want to do the right thing and I’ve got a lot of guardian angels to make me a good example so I can set something up for these kids so they can look up to me as a role model.”
Ferguson couldn’t believe the man he watched on television and didn’t remember any of the references he made about fellow fighter Charlie Rader’s child. He apologized all week and hoped a forthcoming, long UFC career would help fans forget the confrontation.
Ferguson got off to a good start. He earned a guaranteed six-figure contract with the UFC for his victory and notched his fourth straight knockout to finish the show.
This one was the most impressive as Nijem had won three fights of his own to separate himself from the other 12 fighters in the ‘TUF’ house. The fight was dead even, and the judges were probably torn on who was ahead until Ferguson floored Nijem with a left hook to put an end to the bout prematurely.
“I headhunted,” Ferguson said. “I tried to move around a little bit, slip some punches and I just remembered my coaches saying, ‘Throw that hook out there if he leaves his hands up there.’ That’s exactly what I did. I tried to throw a three-punch combo and boom, left hook, got him straight on and finished it.”
As Ferguson celebrated from the top of the cage, Nijem wiped tears away on the other side of the octagon.
In contrast to their reputations, Nijem was the one who spent the week insulting and name-calling Ferguson. He was still turned off by Ferguson’s actions on the show and found extra motivation in standing in the way of his dreams.
But Nijem couldn’t get away from Ferguson’s boxing, the most dangerous part of his game.
“The shot completely caught me off guard,” Nijem said. “I didn’t see it coming. If he didn’t land that, then who knows what would have happened. I need to make myself more relaxed and patient when I’m fighting. I was starting to rush things and I got myself in trouble, and it gave Tony the opportunity he needed to get the win.”
Will Ferguson’s outstanding fighting outweigh the image he gained on the show? It’s not always that simple, said ‘TUF’ season 3 runner-up Ed Herman.
Herman, who was included on the fight card and knocked out Tim Creuder in 48 seconds, came off as a villain when he finished as the runner-up to Kendall Grove on the reality show six years ago. He said he still met fans frequently who called him “a jerk” because of his time on ‘TUF.’
“People hold that against you,” Herman said. “On that show, there’s a lot of emotions going. You can make mistakes and make yourself look bad when you’re not a bad dude. Being on that show brings the worst and the best out of you.”
Ferguson’s experience supports Herman’s idea. The worst came out on that one fateful night Ferguson would do anything to wipe away.
The best was on display in the octagon Saturday. Ferguson sees the fight as the first of many in the UFC.
“I think I belong here,” Ferguson said. “I know I do. I’ve got the trophy to prove it.”