UFC 216: Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee, Full Card Preview and Predictions

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2017

UFC 216: Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee, Full Card Preview and Predictions

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    Tony Ferguson will main event UFC 216 with (interim) UFC gold on the line.
    Tony Ferguson will main event UFC 216 with (interim) UFC gold on the line.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    UFC 215 kicked off what is looking to be a slow season for the promotion and that trend isn't being bucked by UFC 216.

    The full card currently stands as follows:

    • Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee
    • Fabricio Werdum vs. Derrick Lewis
    • Paige VanZant vs. Jessica Eye
    • Walt Harris vs. Mark Godbeer
    • Beneil Dariush vs. Evan Dunham
    • Will Brooks vs. Nik Lentz
    • Tom Duquesnoy vs. Cody Stamann
    • Pearl Gonzalez vs. Poliana Botelho
    • Bobby Green vs. Lando Vannata
    • John Moraga vs. Magomed Bibulatov
    • Thales Leites vs. Brad Tavares
    • Matt Schnell vs. Marco Beltran

    While there is certainly excitement to be found on the cardthere are title-relevant bouts sitting atop the billthe lack of name value and a true title fight hits UFC 216 hard. 

    Still, Bleacher Report is here to take an early look at the event and deliver the previews and predictions for the October 7 show at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Preliminary Card Bouts

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    Lando Vannata was sent back to Earth with his loss to David Teymur.
    Lando Vannata was sent back to Earth with his loss to David Teymur.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Lando Vannata vs. Bobby Green

    Lando Vannata looked like a superstar in the making when he nearly beat Tony Ferguson in his UFC debut, and he followed that up with a wheelkick knockout of John Makdessi. Then he got shut out by David Teymur at UFC 209. The loss showed he's still a work in progress, but he will have a big opportunity to show off new skills when he faces the veteran Bobby Green.


    Pearl Gonzalez vs. Poliano Botelho

    Pearl Gonzalez's UFC debut went wrong in every conceivable way and her sophomore effort might not be much better. Set to face Brazilian knockout artist Poliano Botelho, she will likely enter the Octagon as a sizable underdog.


    Walt Harris vs. Mark Godbeer

    This is UFC 216's obligatory "big dudes who punch really hard" fight. Walt Harris and Mark Godbeer are middling heavyweights, but they should combine for an entertaining scrap with the outcome being a complete tossup.


    Matt Schnell vs. Marco Beltran

    Matt Schnell and Marco Beltran are coming off back-to-back losses in a division the UFC just doesn't care about. The loser of this fight is almost certainly being cut.


    Tom Duquesnoy vs. Cody Stamann

    Former BAMMA champion Tom Duquesnoy posted a generally strong performance in his UFC debut, and the UFC is looking to have the good times roll on at the expense of Cody Stamann.

    While Stamann didn't look bad himself when he arrived in the Octagon earlier this year, the promotion is looking at him as an enhancement talent here. He'll have the chance to prove the company wrong, but that's no easy task.

Notable Bouts

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    Former Bellator champ Will Brooks' UFC life may be on the line.
    Former Bellator champ Will Brooks' UFC life may be on the line.Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Will Brooks vs. Nik Lentz

    It wasn't too long ago that Bellator champion Will Brooks was regarded as an elite-level lightweight. He twice upset posterboy Michael Chandler, and he defended the strap from Dave Jansen and Marcin Held before heading to the UFC in 2016. 

    Unfortunately, he's struggled mightily since, losing his debut to Alex Oliveira and, most recently, getting choked out by Charles Oliveira.

    That's a tough spot to be in, and the UFC is doing him no favors by matching him up with Nik Lentz at UFC 216.

    While Lentz has flown under the radar for his entire UFC career, he is a tough veteran who tends to winand win ugly. If he gets the better of Brooks, which seems likely given his recent struggles, he might get cut loose.


    Beneil Dariush vs. Evan Dunham

    Beneil Dariush continues to soundly defeat anonymous jobbers while flopping against actual contenders. He is lining himself up to be the lightweight division's premiere gatekeeper...a spot that Evan Dunham may or may not have graduated from.

    While Dunham has been up and down throughout his UFC career, he is riding a higher high than he's seen to this point, owning an active four-fight winning streak against strong competition. He has the chance to jump into the top 10 for the first time in years if he defeats Dariush. But that's a big "if."


    John Moraga vs. Magomed Bibulatov

    The fact the UFC has Magomed Bibulatov on the roster can only be described as "problematic," but there's no denying the Chechen flyweight has looked very good to this point in his career. The UFC is giving him a big test, however, in the form of John Moraga.

    While Moraga is a long way removed from his days as a serious contender, he is still a tough flyweight who should push Bibulatov in a big way.

    If Bibulatov can get through him in impressive fashion, which is a fairly safe bet, he'll force the UFC into making some difficult decisions about who and how it promotes.


    Thales Leites vs. Brad Tavares

    Thales Leites and Brad Tavares have both been around in the UFC for a long time now and are riding some nice momentum after big wins over Sam Alvey and Elias Theodorou, respectively.

    Of course, the UFC isn't keen on letting fighters break out of the middle of the pack and, as such, is matching them up against one another at UFC 216.

    Leites should be the favorite here given his veteran smarts, but Tavares isn't an easy out. Either way, don't expect this one to end inside the distance as both men will look to ply their grappling en route to the scorecards.

Paige VanZant vs. Jessica Eye

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    Paige VanZant has a unique place in the UFC today.
    Paige VanZant has a unique place in the UFC today.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Division: Women's Flyweight

    Records: Paige VanZant (7-3), Jessica Eye (11-6) 

    Few fights in recent months have drawn mixed reactions like Paige VanZant vs. Jessica Eye.

    According to some, the UFC is done treating VanZant as a serious fighter, and setting her up to be a full-time spokesmodel.

    Although she has been one of the company's favorite fighters over recent years, the 23-year-old has demonstrated little technical improvement since her impressive UFC debut in 2013, despite training (at least most of the time) at elite MMA gym Team Alpha Male.

    With that in mind, the company is looking to use the name value they have built up for her by jobbing her out to a likely contender in Eye.

    According to others, however, it's the exact opposite. Though Eye was looked at as an elite-level flyweight (with her biggest win being the vicious technical submission of then-Bellator champion Zoila Gurgel) at one point, she has struggled mightily in the UFC as a bantamweight, with her official record standing at an ugly 1-5 with one no contest.

    She will enter UFC 216 riding a four-fight losing streak, and so she is tough to look at as any kind of unstoppable force.

    Regardless of what the UFC's plans are or what it thinks of either woman, there is a real chance that the winner of this fight challenges for the UFC title in early 2018.

    The inaugural women's flyweight champion will be crowned on December 1 at The Ultimate Fighter season 26 finale and this gives the UFC a prefab top contender for the late winter. 

    But who will it be? VanZant is likely the safer bet, given how pedestrian Eye has looked of late. Either way, don't expect an exciting fight. Both women will look to clinch, dirty box and maybe fish for takedowns and that all but guarantees a less-than-exciting decision outcome.

    Prediction: Paige VanZant def. Jessica Eye by Unanimous Decision

Fabricio Werdum vs. Derrick Lewis

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    Fabricio Werdum is in a tricky spot after losing to Alistair Overeem in July.
    Fabricio Werdum is in a tricky spot after losing to Alistair Overeem in July.Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    Division: Heavyweight

    Records: Fabricio Werdum (21-7-1), Derrick Lewis (18-5)

    It's been a bad, bad year for Fabricio Werdum. 

    Aged 40 and 15 years deep into his MMA career, he finds himself far away from the UFC heavyweight title picture, courtesy of his July loss to Alistair Overeem.

    And out of the cage, things aren't much better, with UFC President Dana White raking him over the coals and his BFF and staunch advocate Ramzan Kadyrov dragging him into the public blowback for his reported gay purge in Chechnya.

    Things could get much worse, too, as he's set to face Derrick Lewis at UFC 216. 

    While Lewis doesn't have the extensive resume and championship pedigree that Werdum does, the Black Beast is one of the UFC's biggest sluggers, with terrifyingly heavy hands and borderline superhuman strength. 

    This is a high-risk, low-reward fight for Werdum who gains little in victory but loses a great deal in defeat. 

    The odds are he gets back in the win column. While much of his time in the Octagon has been spent upright, he's still a submission specialist first and foremost, which is bad news for a less-than-stellar grappler in Lewis.

    He'll be playing a dangerous game against Lewis, however, and can't afford to get touched by the fan favorite.

    Prediction: Fabricio Werdum def. Derrick Lewis by Submission in Round 3

Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee

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    Kevin Lee has been one of 2017's breakout MMA stars.
    Kevin Lee has been one of 2017's breakout MMA stars.Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

    Division: Lightweight

    Records: Tony Ferguson (22-3), Kevin Lee (16-2)

    Nothing about Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee is ideal. 

    Ferguson enters this contest amid a longstanding rivalry with Khabib Nurmagomedov, made longstanding based on the Russian's inability to actively compete.

    The two have been matched up to fight on three separate occasions, with each bout falling through for different reasons, necessitating the inclusion of a new contender.

    Lee is that new contender, but he may as well be announced as "Plan B" for this fight. Currently sitting at No. 7 on the UFC's official rankings, he was fighting on cable TV prelims as recently as March, and he enters UFC 215 off a controversial win over Michael Chiesa.

    While the Motown Phenom is a magnetic personality and hugely skilled in the cage, he lacks both the on-paper hook to warrant a UFC title opportunity and the buzz to move the proverbial needle.

    All the while, Conor McGregor's shadow looms large. Though Lee and Ferguson face off with a UFC belt (and the improved financial guarantees that go with it) on the line, they remain slaves to the whims of the true lightweight champion, whose camp is looking to ignore them entirely in favor of a rubber match with Nate Diaz.

    Despite the out-of-the-cage concerns, there is a great deal to like about this contest. Ferguson has risen to the pound-for-pound discussion on his nose for finishes and an almost peerless gas tank, while Lee is on an amazing hot streak. They should combine for a Fight of the Year-caliber bout and treat fans to a legitimately special contest even if the larger picture is a bit blurry.

    Ferguson is the clear favorite here, make no mistake. While Lee has looked strong of late, his opponent has the significantly stronger body of work and owns wins over top names such as Rafael dos Anjos, Edson Barboza and Josh Thomson.

    Still, Lee is a live dog in this fight and an upset is a real possibility.

    Prediction: Tony Ferguson def. Kevin Lee by Unanimous Decision