CHICAGO -- Tony Ferguson left United Center on Saturday night a triumphant winner, his victory streak extended to 12 and his spot among the top contenders in the UFC's lightweight division preserved. If a punch fell a few inches to the right, though, his UFC 238 could have gone sideways.
Ferguson beat Donald Cerrone by TKO via a doctor's stoppage at the end of the second round. Cerrone's right eye became swollen shut after blowing his nose when it was probably broken, and the ringside doctors determined he could no longer adequately defend himself.
The most bizarre part came a few seconds earlier. The bell to end the second round sounded and Ferguson was in the middle of a striking combination. Referee Dan Miragliotta was a bit slow getting in between the two fighters and a Ferguson right hand landed to Cerrone's face after the horn.
Cerrone was already busted up, his nose bleeding badly with swelling around both eyes, before the late punch even landed. But because of Ferguson's after-the-bell blow, Miragliotta looked at a replay to determine whether the punch directly caused the finish. If it had, Miragliotta could have ruled it a disqualification of Ferguson or a no contest. But the referee said the blow didn't land on Cerrone's eye in question, therefore Ferguson won by TKO.
"Literally, I don't even think the punch landed on his face that side," Ferguson told ESPN afterward. "It was the other side. It was towards his left eye. I mean, we're in an emotional fight. I'm an emotional fighter. I don't like to try to do that s---. I don't aim to do that s---. Like I said, there's been a lot going on this past year. We're in a fight, man. There was a lot of drama and s--- going on."
Ferguson was ahead on two of the three judges' scorecards heading into the third round.
Ferguson was out eight months dealing with personal issues, including his wife filing a restraining order request against him, which was later dropped. Ferguson said he could barely even hear the bell at the end of the second and was lost in the moment.
"Yeah, kind of," Ferguson said of not hearing the horn. "But it was more like, even in the first round, going into the second round, I was just getting more and more amped up. I was just ready to come and put the pressure on the dude."
Ferguson's explanation is the exact reason why referees are trained to close in on the fighters as the round draws to an end, so they can jump in between them right at the bell.
"Dan's job is to come between the fighters so that [punch] hits him and not Donald," said legendary referee John McCarthy, who now works as a color commentator for Bellator. "But the fight ended because Donald f---ed up and blew his nose, which made his eye close. No doctor is going to let you fight with a closed eye."
Cerrone was transported to the hospital Saturday night because of a broken right orbital bone, UFC president Dana White said at the postfight news conference. Fans threw things into the Octagon when the fight was ruled over because Cerrone could not continue. White said he felt Miragliotta and Illinois State Athletic Commission officials got things right in the end and bashed spectators who thought Cerrone should continue.
"Anybody that's in this arena tonight that thought 'Cowboy' should have continued to fight should be beat with a stick, OK?" White said. "That's just horrible to think that that guy should go back in there and fight like that. He would -- of course he would. But he shouldn't and he didn't. That's why there's an athletic commission."
Dr. John Neidecker, a sports medicine specialist and vice president of the Association of Ringside Physicians, said Cerrone likely had a nasal or sinus fracture, which led to the bad eye swelling.
"When the nose is blown, air is forced through the crack and gets underneath the skin," Neidecker said. "Because of all the swelling of the soft tissue and blood, the air is then trapped."
McCarthy said if he were in Miragliotta's position, he would have taken a point from Ferguson for the late punch. But, of course, that would not have mattered anyway since Cerrone was ruled unable to continue. Referee and referee trainer Rob Hinds, who was watching at home, told ESPN that he agreed with Miragliotta's choice to call it a TKO after the replay.
"The punch after the horn had absolutely nothing to with the finish," Hinds said. "It hit Cerrone on the opposite side of the face."
White on Ferguson vs. Cerrone: 'Tony won that fight'
Dana White acknowledges that Tony Ferguson hit Donald Cerrone after the bell in his TKO win, but maintains "Tony won that fight, fair and square." For more UFC action, sign up for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Ferguson said he had no worry that Miragliotta might come back from the replay and disqualify him or call it a no contest.
"I was more impressed with the way that I jumped back into getting my ass back into the Octagon," Ferguson said. "I knew already that win or loss, I'd be happy just getting [in there]."
Despite all the weirdness after the fight, it was Ferguson's work during the second round, peppering Cerrone's face with punches, as well as Cerrone's untimely blowing of his nose that led to the odd TKO. And, at this point, Ferguson will take it.
"Immediately, I saw his nose already starting to bleed," Ferguson said of the second round. "That was the target that was hitting and I hit it probably more than like 15 times. ... He blew his nose [between rounds] and then his face got f---ing like a balloon. I saw it immediately. It was crazy. It's happened to me before, too. My corners were telling me, 'Don't blow your f---ing nose, don't blow your nose.' And then I immediately see his eyes just start to close."