The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight division will get shaken and stirred when former titleholder Rafael dos Anjos meets surging contender Tony Ferguson in the UFC Fight Night 98 main event on Saturday at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City. In the co-headliner, Martin Bravo squares off with Claudio Puelles in “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 3” lightweight tournament final (online betting).
The rest of the six-fight main card features a featherweight clash pitting Ricardo Lamas against Charles Oliveira, a women’s strawweight battle matching Alexa Grasso with Heather Clark and a pair of lightweight affairs, as Diego Sanchez faces Marcin Held and Beneil Dariush takes on Rashid Magomedov.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Dos Anjos vs. Ferguson” matchup, with analysis and picks:
LightweightsRafael dos Anjos (25-8) vs. Tony Ferguson (22-3)
THE MATCHUP: Ferguson has been champing at the bit for a title shot, and there is nothing like a win over the former champion to clinch it. Meanwhile, dos Anjos, who until just recently seemed poised to rule the lightweight division for some time, will doubtless be eager to prove himself against one of the division’s most dangerous fighters and earn a second crack at Eddie Alvarez -- provided Alvarez can keep his belt out of Conor McGregor’s heavy hands at UFC 205.
Dos Anjos is a pressure fighter through and through. He is powerful and durable, and he has the best cage-cutting footwork in the entire division. Few fighters are capable of keeping dos Anjos at bay for long, and he is supremely comfortable in middle range, always ready to block and counter with punches or slam his retreating opponents with vicious kicks as they attempt to circumnavigate the cage. Dos Anjos’ defense is not stellar, but he is aware of his opponent’s likely attacks and always ready to respond in kind. The inherent viciousness of dos Anjos’ style -- he never takes a shot without giving two back -- makes him a force to be reckoned with.
Ferguson is no less dangerous. In fact, he has the highest finishing rate among the top 10 by a significant margin, an impressive 72 percent, with nine knockouts and nine submissions. Ferguson’s strength is his ability to take the fight anywhere and respond aggressively no matter where the fight is taken. He pushes a ridiculous pace. He can absorb an unreal amount of punishment, as demonstrated in his fights with Edson Barboza and Lando Vannata, and fights with great creativity. At any given moment, Ferguson is as likely to funk roll out of a takedown attempt as he is to throw a three-elbow combination or jump on a brabo choke in the midst of a wild scramble.
Ferguson is fairly reliant, however, on his ability to change phases at will. Like many great transitional fighters, Ferguson runs into trouble when he is trapped in a single phase. Forced to strike with Vannata and Barboza, Ferguson ate shot after shot. Forced by Danny Castillo to only grapple off his back, Ferguson was utterly incapable of getting anything going and squeaked by with an ugly, controversial decision. When Ferguson is able to shake opponents with his pressure, pace and unpredictability, he has his way. Otherwise, he gets hit or stalled out. It is to Ferguson’s credit that none of the men who have tested him in recent years have been able to stop him. In the end, his pace has won out. However, dos Anjos is capable of matching that pace.
THE ODDS: Dos Anjos (-150), Ferguson (+130)
THE PICK: How does Ferguson respond when pressured? Truth be told, we do not really know. Gleison Tibau ran him into counters, but that is not really pressure -- not the way dos Anjos does it. Castillo pressed his wrestling advantage but was either unwilling or unable to do anything with his top control. Dos Anjos is the most dangerous, well-rounded fighter Ferguson will have ever faced. Chances are he remains the most well-rounded fighter in the entire division. Ferguson is so wild and so tough that he will likely put dos Anjos in a few tough spots, and if the Alvarez result is any kind of omen, the Brazilian may not respond well. Barring a sudden end to the fight, however, dos Anjos’ style is more reliable, and I have my doubts about whether or not Ferguson can maintain his manic pace for more than three rounds. The pick is dos Anjos by fifth-round TKO.
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