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The Weekly Takedown: How UFC's fiercest fighters handle losing, bruising and cruising in the octagon

Top-billed bouts lay bare the spectrum of emotions each and every fight night – and Saturday's UFC 279 should prove no different.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

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Tony Ferguson went viral but for all the wrong reasons.

Ferguson was on the receiving end of a front kick from Michael Chandler in May at UFC 274. It was a ferocious shot, knocking him out and breathing new life into Chandler's UFC run after he had suffered back-to-back losses.

"Right away, I knew I couldn't dwell on it," Ferguson says. "Sh-t happens. You take a loss, you learn from up, you get the f-ck back up, and do it again."

The forgotten element in that fight is that Ferguson was taking it to Chandler in the first round, damaging his right eye. Although the first round ended with a Chandler takedown, Ferguson fought a very competitive round.

Then the second round began. That's when Chandler landed a kick with the bottom of his foot that nearly knocked Ferguson's head off.

"I went into that fight with Chandler knowing I had to check all of his kicks," Ferguson says. "That meant doing damage to his shins like in his (Justin) Gaethje fight, and clipping him like 'Pitbull' Patrício with the right hand and the left—and I was on point. I knew his shins were hurting like a motherf-cker. I guarantee you Chandler went into that corner thinking, 'F-ck, my shins hurt.' The only part that wasn't hurting was the bottom of his foot.

"Unfortunately for me, I was looking to go for an outside sweep single. I was paying attention to one leg, not paying attention to the other, and boom, and I took one to the chops."

Ferguson (25-7 MMA, 15-5 UFC) returns to the octagon at UFC 279 this Saturday, seeking to write a new chapter to his legendary career. Once one of the most feared fighters in the world – and the one it seemed was bound to finally defeat Khabib Nurmagomedov in a bout that ultimately never materialized – Ferguson has now lost four in a row. His opponent at 279, Li Jingliang (19-7 MMA, 11-5 UFC), is a solid welterweight, though not quite elite. If Ferguson beats Jingliang, it will help restore his place in the UFC.

"I'm not worried. I've earned my spot, and I'm doing what I need to do. I'm going out there to win. I've put in the effort; I've put in the work."

Since May, Ferguson has had to deal with the loss to Chandler. The day after suffering the knockout was particularly jarring, coming to grips with the notion all his work went unfulfilled. 

Every fighter has a different routine the day after a fight, and a lot of it is dependent on the nature of the fight. For Ferguson, the day after the bout against Chandler was a testament to his mental fortitude.

"It's the mental part for me that I focused on the next day and every day," Ferguson says. "People will never understand how I felt the next day, or the next month. That all goes back to my upbringing. No one grew up like I did. I grew up with a pops that wouldn't f-ck around. That mental part for me – it's not going nowhere. It's strong. That's the energy I use to get me where I need to go."

The fight fallout

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The day after a fight isn't always a negative experience or an intense mental battle. At least, that is, if you are Israel Adesanya.

Adesanya relishes those 24 hours. For the reigning middleweight champion, an overwhelming majority of those days followed a victory. After all the stress surrounding his fights, Adesanya relishes those ensuing stress-free hours.

"That's when I relax," Adesanya (23-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC) says. "You're hearing from all sorts of people about your performance, people sending their best. I really like it quiet. It's my chance to unwind and connect."

Adesanya's lone MMA loss was in March 2021, when he moved up to light heavyweight for a title fight against Jan Blachowicz. It wasn't all that spectacular of a bout. Blachowicz used his size to pin Adesanya to the mat.

"I'm a fighter, but I'm also human," Adesanya says. "That's something for me to experience as a person and learn from."

Following the defeat, Adesanya ripped off three straight victories, defeating both Marvin Vettori and Robert Whittaker for a second time, as well as Jared Cannonier, all via unanimous decision. He now prepares for an entirely new challenge against Alex Pereira (6-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC), who is undefeated in the UFC and already defeated Adesanya twice in kickboxing.

That fight headlines UFC 281 in November at New York's famed Madison Square Garden. While his focus is centered on preparing for Pereira, the eclectic range of New York City cuisine will immediately move to the forefront of his mind once he finds a way to defeat his longtime foe.

"I love to eat," Adesanya says. "That's my favorite thing to do the day after a fight. It's also a chance for me to dabble in a city's culture. I remember how excited I was to try the food in Houston [after the last Whittaker fight]. Then I chill. I reflect. It's such a busy stretch, so I like a lot of time by myself–and a lot of great food."

On the subject of MSG, a memorable post-fight day for Justin Gaethje took place last November in New York at the world's most famous arena.

Gaethje traded blows with Chandler in the opening bout of UFC 268. Gaethje landed piercing, spearing strikes, causing Chandler to spit up blood during the bout. Somehow, Chandler finished the fight, but it was Gaethje who was awarded the victory via unanimous decision.

"That fight in New York was over around 11 at night, and I was back at the hotel around one in the morning," Gaethje (23-4 MMA, 6-4 UFC) says. "For me, at that point, it was all about enjoying the moment. That's 12 weeks of work. My family was proud; I gave max effort."

Gaethje flew back home and arrived at his house just hours later, then enjoyed the next morning in the comfort of his own bed. His pain ached slightly less whenever he reflected upon that MSG win. Everything went his way, it seemed, except for one problem.

"When I win, I cannot sleep," Gaethje says. "After that fight, I couldn't sleep for the next two days. As happy as I was, I was exhausted."

Naturally, a victory helps transform the day after a fight into a far more enjoyable experience. That was certainly the case for Gaethje following his victory at 268.

"When I lost the second fight to (Dustin) Poirier, it took me some time to find that peace to know everything was going to be O.K.," Gaethje says. "I had that peace after the Chandler fight."

Finding that inner peace seemed like an impossible task for Ciryl Gane after he lost his first MMA bout – and the heavyweight title – in January. Up until that point, Gane had yet to taste defeat in the octagon until he was outclassed by Francis Ngannou.

"I was so sad," says Gane (11-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC), who returned to action this past weekend with an exceptional victory against Tai Tuivasa. "It reminded me of when I played in soccer tournaments. Those losses would sting."

A middle defenseman, Gane won countless games with his teammates. But he remembers the losses with much more accuracy.

"The loss to Francis, it was like a loss from the finals of a soccer tournament," Gane says. "I remember crying with my teammates on the bus. It was just like that with my team (after losing to Ngannou).

"The whole next day, I thought, 'It was so close. What if I did this? What if I'd done that?' And I replayed it over and over again. It was a very difficult day."

Picking up the pieces

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Lack of clarity also makes the day following a fight extremely difficult to process. This was the case for Corey Anderson, who was on the cusp of greatness in Bellator in April.

For all but three seconds of the first three rounds, Anderson thoroughly dominated Vadim Nemkov in their light heavyweight world title bout at Bellator 277. The bout doubled as the finals of the light heavyweight world grand prix, and a victory for Anderson was inevitable. Seconds away from winning the Bellator light heavyweight belt and a million-dollar prize for the grand prix, Anderson was on the cusp of adding a new chapter to his legacy after manhandling Nemkov, who had entered the bout on a nine-fight win streak.

"I know I'm the best 205(-pound) fighter in the world," Anderson says. "But what did surprise me was that he was so far behind. I expected him to be a lot stronger and faster. I don't want to say he wasn't prepared, but he didn't have the answers for me that I thought he would."

As Anderson continued to hit Nemkov with a flurry of shots on the mat, the referee stopped the fight.

"It was crazy," says Anderson, describing his feeling of euphoria. "I was told I won. That's a million dollars. That's the title. It was an incredible feeling."

The celebration was brief. Due to an accidental clash of heads, one that left Nemkov busted open above his eye, the bout was stopped with three seconds remaining. Since the fight didn't reach the end of the third round, it was ruled a no contest.

"Thirty seconds after getting told I won, I'm told I didn't win," Anderson says. "No title, no million dollars."

Anderson (16-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) has his light heavyweight world grand prix rematch against Nemkov this November at Bellator 288. That represents his next chance at winning $1 million and the light heavyweight title, which would provide closure to a miserable experience after that last fight.

"It took some time to recover from that, especially that next day," Anderson says. "It didn't help that I had a week of phone calls explaining what happened. But I recovered the best way possible. I spent time with my family. I focused on them.

"I'm over it. Now I'm onto the next one."

As soon as that fight ended in April, there was immediate talk of a rematch. Anderson was ready to fight the very next day, and that drive is helping to motivate him for this title bout.

"Since the first day, it's been easy to stay hungry," Anderson says. "He's still the champ. I have a no-contest from that fight. I need to do everything I can to make sure the next result isn't a loss. If I win, my next day will be a whole lot better."

The day after a fight is far more peaceful following a victory. Yet the right formula can help lead to redemption in the cage. For Ferguson, he is looking to rebound in the most significant way possible after that harrowing loss to Chandler.

"If I get the victory, it means I put the work in during the camp," Ferguson says. "That's what I did. I didn't half-ass anything.

"Everybody wants to be a GOAT. But those come and go. I'm a BOAT, the best of all time. And boats stay afloat."

The Pick 'Em Section:

UFC 279 welterweight bout: Nate Diaz vs. Khamzat Chimaev

  • Pick: Khamzat Chimaev

UFC 279 welterweight bout: Tony Ferguson vs. Li Jingliang

  • Pick: Tony Ferguson

UFC 279 catchweight (180 pounds) bout: Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez

  • Pick: Kevin Holland

UFC 279 women's bantamweight bout: Irene Aldana vs. Macy Chiasson

  • Pick: Irene Aldana

UFC 279 light heavyweight bout: Johnny Walker vs. Ion Cutelaba

  • Pick: Johnny Walker

Last week: 4–1

2022 record: 100–59

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.