In twelve seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, the final battles for the six-figure contract haven't had very much in common. There have been hard-fought decisions, stunning knockouts, slick submissions, upset victories and dominant performances.
What there really hasn't been, however, is a villain.
Season 3 light heavyweight winner Michael Bisping -- who will coach season 14 of TUF this fall -- has become a fighter fans love to hate outside his native England, but when he stepped into the Octagon in 2006 to face Josh Haynes, he had yet to earn the ire of UFC crowds. TUF 9 welterweight finalist DaMarques Johnson might have been the fans' preferred fighter when he represented Team USA at the season finale against James Wilks, but "Lightning" wasn't treated harshly by the crowd as he claimed victory.
It's safe to say that things will be a bit different for Tony Ferguson on Saturday night when he walks out to the Octagon to face Ramsey Nijem for a six-figure UFC contract at the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Lesnar vs. Team Dos Santos (LIVE on Spike at 9PM/8c).
The final episodes of the season have seen Ferguson's image as a calm, well-dressed dedicated fighter shattered by a night of drinking and partying at the fighters' house that hit its climax with Ferguson yelling at teammate Charlie Rader over his ongoing battle for custody of his son. The outburst left Ferguson without a friend in the house, and it may well leave him without a fan in the building on Saturday night.
It's certainly left him on the receiving end of some harsh words on his Twitter and Facebook accounts.
"Obviously," Ferguson said, "I did make a mistake. But I am paying for it. And obviously my Twitter has been blowing up like crazy. And even Facebook. I've had a few people send me some crazy messages I never thought I would get."
Ferguson had done a good job of keeping his cool earlier in the season, not rising to the bait when teammate Chris Cope accused him of writing a message about him in the house's Zen garden. However, on that night of drinking, he lost control.
"I wasn't prepared for that at all," Ferguson said of his villain status in the season's final episodes. "It was kind of funny how it all happened. It sucked unfortunately but that's what happens when you are mixing alcohol and you are stuck with a bunch of guys in a house. I am a nice guy outside of there. But that was an extraordinary situation. You know I know who I am. And my family knows who I am. But I hope that everybody in the world, they get to see me actually, what I'm made of after this."
That starts with the fight against Nijem, who's likely to be the fan favorite on Saturday night. However, Ferguson isn't about to be rattled by any reception he receives from the crowd in Las Vegas, nor is he planning on using a hostile crowd as motivation.
"When you're a fighter, you're an athlete like that, you have to look past that," Ferguson said. "You have to put it all behind you. I don't think it's going to affect me at all. When you're focused and in the zone -- I'm sure other fighters can vouch for this -- you don't really listen to anything else. You just focus on your team before you go out there, and even after that. You've got that rhythm in your head and it's hard to break that rhythm."
In training for the fight, Ferguson has had the help of a man who knows a thing or two about being booed. Ferguson's coach on the show, Brock Lesnar, has always had his share of detractors in the Octagon,and while that likely hasn't been discussed recently, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion did bring Ferguson out to his DeathClutch training camp in Alexandria, Minnesota.
"I spent a good six or seven weeks out there in Alexandria," Ferguson said, "training under (Marty Morgan) and all the full staff that were out there. It was a pleasure to be out there. I had a bunch of guys that came in and kicked my butt getting ready for this finale."
And now, Ferguson is on the verge of walking out to the Octagon and taking one more step into his future. And if it takes a while for fans to accept him, that's ok.
"I want to make my parents proud just like any other person that is competing in this sport," Ferguson said. "I just want to make people proud, make things right."
Photo: The Ultimate Fighter