The Complete Guide to UFC 216: Ferguson vs. Lee
Not one but two title fights headline the card at UFC 216 in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.
Before we discuss the main event, let's welcome back to the program Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg. You may remember Johnson and Borg from UFC 215 last month, when Johnson was set to seek the record for consecutive title defenses before Borg fell ill in the final hours of cutting weight. Johnson is still a heavy favorite to defend his flyweight title and set the record. Can Borg make it to the scales and make 125 pounds? That may be the realest intrigue.
That, in any case, is the co-main event, assuming Borg handles business. In the headliner, two outspoken lightweights vie for the interim title, which was made necessary by Conor McGregor's refusal to fight anyone.
Take its value for what you will, but Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee are both outspoken and outsized talents who have paid the cost to fight for the belt. Ferguson has nine straight wins over some the division's true killers. Lee is 9-2 during his UFC run.
There's plenty more intrigue on this card. Did anyone say Fabricio Werdum vs. Derrick Lewis? Here's your complete guide to the card, featuring all the latest news, basic data and some pithy analysis to boot. Have a good time.
The Fight Pass Prelims
Matt Schnell (9-4) vs Marco Beltran (8-5)
Schnell is a sentimental favorite here, still seeking his first UFC win after two previous tries. Similarly, Beltran, despite a semifinal run on The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America and a 3-2 UFC record, remains relatively unproven.
Neither of these men are ground specialists, so this might play out on the feet. Both of Schnell's aforementioned Octagon defeats came by knockout. Beltran isn't an amazing headhunter, but he can get the job done in this case.
Beltran, TKO, Rd. 2
Thales Leites (27-7) vs Brad Tavares (15-4)
Leites is 35, but it feels like he should be older. Remember that title fight with Anderson Silva? The super-boring one everyone hated? It feels like that happened in 1897.
He's still here, still great at jiu-jitsu, still ready to control-grapple everyone into submission—metaphorically, at least. I guess we can hope for some flash of his kickboxing, which is fun when it happens.
Tavares has a pretty straightforward game: use low kicks and throw bombs when the opportunity arises. There's a ton of engagement. At the same time, he's rock-solid physically, and it can be hard for opponents to impose their will as a result. The result can be extended stalemates. Hey, that's Leites' specialty!
I think Leites has enough in his gas tank and his bag of tricks to pull one out here. Maybe it's a takedown; maybe it's a nifty flash of muay thai. Hell, maybe it's a submission. Let's not get crazy. Let's sound the mild upset alarms.
Leites, unanimous decision
John Moraga (17-6) vs Magomed Bibulatov (14-0)
Two years ago, John Moraga was fighting on pay-per-view main cards. It's a cold game. After losing three straight, he finally turned it around with a win in June. For his troubles, he gets Bibulatov, a promising fighter who won his UFC debut this spring (and who has attracted attention for his ties to Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov).
Moraga still has concrete in his hands, but Bibulatov has a more well-rounded striking game, not to mention a major advantage in wrestling, which is the Chechen's real calling card.
Bibulatov, unanimous decision
Walt Harris (10-5) vs Mark Godbeer (12-3)
Harris is on a streak, winning three of his last four. He is a heavy hitter, plain and simple; all his victories came that way. He's favored to do it again vs. Godbeer, and why shouldn't he be? No disrespect to Godbeer, a meat-and-potatoes boxer, but Harris eats meat and potatoes for breakfast.
Harris, KO, Rd. 1
The FXX Prelims
Pearl Gonzalez (6-2) vs Poliana Botelho (5-1)
Gonzalez picked up a lot of fans in her UFC debut this spring, where she gave favorite Cortney Casey all she could handle before ultimately losing by submission. Now she's the favorite, and that's thanks to her submission grappling, which has notched her four wins.
Botelho is a likable competitor from Brazil with a high-octane game. She'll want to knock Gonzalez out. Gonzalez will land a takedown, though, and keep her from doing so.
Gonzalez, submission, Rd. 2
Bobby Green (23-8) vs Lando Vannata (9-2)
Everyone loves Lando, and it's not hard to see why. He is terribly aggressive, and also throws cartwheel kicks. So, yes. He's also a finishing machine whose pyrotechnics mask the solid strategy and fundamentals of his Jackson-Wink pedigree.
Green has had his moments, and he'll give Vannata the firefight everyone wants, but he feels like a target here for another Lando highlight reel.
Vannata, TKO, Rd. 3
Will Brooks (18-3) vs Nik Lentz (27-8-2)
I'm still upset that Brooks changed from "Ill Will" to "Trill Will." "Ill" was so much better.
But I'm still picking Brooks here. I'm not that bitter. Brooks is famous for his long-range wrestle-kicking, and he continues to ply it in the UFC, even if the results have not yet been as overpowering as they were in Bellator (a 1-2 record thus far).
Even so, Lentz is an exciting fighter but might have his peak in the rearview. He'll be an exciting brawler for as long as his career continues but has difficulty with wrestlers and grapplers. Brooks should be able to play his wrestling and use his strength to keep Lentz bottled up, then batter him in the late minutes.
Brooks, TKO, Rd. 3
Tom Duquesnoy (15-1) vs Cody Stamann (14-1)
I don't know if any seats remain on the Firekid bandwagon, but if they do, they're going at a premium. This may be your last chance to snag one before they start costing you your dignity.
Duquesnoy is the brightest prospect in the MMA world. I should know because I ranked him that (with my co-writer Patrick Wyman). This is the highest-profile bout of his career, coming as it does in the featured prelim spot. But it shouldn't faze him. He's a steely competitor who wants to put out your lights, and he has a dizzying range of strikes (and the rock-solid takedown defense) to do it to anyone.
That includes Stamann, who will try his hand at getting Duquesnoy down but ultimately will not be successful. Trust me, the young Frenchman is going to wow you.
Duquesnoy, TKO, Rd. 2
Beneil Dariush vs. Evan Dunham
Beneil Dariush (14-3) vs Evan Dunham (18-6)
The herd can only run as fast as its slowest member. Ditto MMA skills. Dariush is smart enough to understand that. He's a patient, well-rounded fighter who can pick people apart and wear them down in the clinch over three rounds.
I am also personally of the opinion that his grappling is underrated. When you can ride Jim Miller's back for nearly a full round, you're doing something right. Likewise, it's hard to hold Dariush's last defeat against him—a highlight-reel knockout from Edson Barboza, one of the best strikers in the world.
I think this is a taller order for Dunham than the odds indicate. He's the same kind of fighter as Dariush, a jiu-jitsu base pivoting into a wide-ranging skill set. His striking has taken off recently and has proved key to his four-fight win streak. But Dunham is more of a brawler. It's also probably not accurate to say he has an unlimited gas tank.
Dariush -221 (wager $221 to win $100), Dunham +179 (wager $100 to win $179)
Neither of these guys are curtain-closers. Both are good. Dunham will start fast and could pull the mild upset if he can make it bloody and dirty. But Dariush should be able to weather an early storm and outwork Dunham down the stretch, perhaps hitting a trip takedown from clinch and doing work from the top.
Dariush, unanimous decision
Mara Romero Borella vs. Kalindra Faria
Kalindra Faria (18-5) vs Mara Romero Borella (11-4-1)
This fight started with two debuting UFC fighters. It has now morphed into, well, two debuting UFC fighters. But it has lost some luster, particularly given its main-card status.
Fans were excited to see Andrea Lee enter the UFC after years of winning in Invicta and Legacy Fighting Alliance, where she held the women's flyweight strap. But she had to pull out because of difficulties with USADA, so Borella saved the bout on short notice.
Faria also sports a long tradition of success. The only fighters to beat her in the past six years are Jessica Aguilar and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, both of whom are in the UFC and the latter of whom is a title contender.
The 31-year-old Italian Borella is a little less decorated, though she hasn't lost in her past six fights.
Faria is a creative striker, piecing together combinations from unusual angles and unusual strikes. Elbows are a particular favorite. She also has a great gas tank and pushes a strong pace throughout the course of most contests. The Brazilian also knows her way around the mat, having scored five wins by submission. At the same time, a control wrestler (see Aguilar) can overpower her.
Borella doesn't appear to be the overpowering type. She does have a balanced balance sheet, with three wins by knockout and four each from submission and decision. The real telltale, however, may be in the loss column, where she has suffered three knockout losses.
Faria -200, Borella +160
The knockout trendlines are too evident to ignore. If Borella is chinny, Faria's the one to find it. Unless Borella has a store of striking defense and power doubles I don't know about, Faria's the fave for a reason.
Faria, TKO, Rd. 1
Fabricio Werdum vs. Derrick Lewis
Fabricio Werdum (21-7-1) vs Derrick Lewis (18-5)
What you want to do here is batten down the hatches.
One of these days, someone is going to take the reins of the high-middle tier of the heavyweight division. Right before someone gets an undeniable head of steam, they suffer a key defeat or a matchup goes sour or they accidentally eat raw chicken and fall terribly, terribly ill.
Lewis' ratio of popularity to accomplishments is insanely favorable, thanks to his massive knockouts, hilarious social media presence and he'll-say-anything interviews. To date, he's mainly faced fellow bomb-layers like Travis Browne and Mark Hunt. His right hook might be the single most powerful blow in the UFC, and his gas tank is better than he gets credit for.
Werdum, though, is unlike anyone else he's ever faced. Can Lewis knock him out? Sure, Lewis can knock him out. Lewis could knock out a car. Despite Werdum's famed jiu-jitsu game, he's not a one-trick pony. He can keep a pretty good pace on the feet, and a relatively high output could bother and tire Lewis. That will leave him ripe for the proverbial plucking.
Werdum -250, Lewis +195
Too many things suggest Lewis is out of his league here. Lewis is the younger fighter—32 to Werdum's 40—and it's clear after this year's loss to Alistair Overeem that Werdum is not the near-unstoppable force he once was. Lewis' toughness also is unassailable, as he's never been submitted as a pro fighter. There's a first time for everything.
Werdum, submission, Rd. 2
Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg
Flyweight (for UFC flyweight championship)
Demetrious Johnson (26-2-1) vs Ray Borg (11-2)
We've been here before.
Demetrious Johnson is a massive favorite for a reason. There's nothing different about this matchup (Borg's weight cut notwithstanding) vs. the one they scheduled less than a month ago.
Johnson's best skill areas are his footwork and his ability to effortlessly shift phases. Borg needs to be going forward in order for his striking to work. He loves to throw, but the landing is a little more difficult for him. That kind of wasted motion is not the kind of thing that's going to help you against arguably the greatest MMA fighter in MMA today.
By the same token, Borg is great on the ground, but he won't be able to impose his will on Johnson, who can't be had by a simple takedown or scramble.
Johnson -667, Borg +445
Come on. This is Johnson's fight. With the record on the line, with his certain (if not acknowledged) aggravation over the UFC 215 false start, and with his desire to play his skills on a big stage, the flyweight GOAT—and maybe much more—is going to take Borg apart.
Johnson, TKO, Rd. 3
Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee
Lightweight (for UFC interim lightweight championship)
Tony Ferguson (22-4) vs Kevin Lee (16-2)
It's finally here. It may not be the lineal version, but if Tony Ferguson can win this and get at least some kind of belt around his waist, the promised land and Conor McGregor will be as close as they can possibly be.
That's not to discount Kevin Lee's chances. He's here for a reason, too. He's the total package—a great promoter of his fights and a physically gifted competitor. His strength gives him an advantage in most ground or clinch exchanges, not to mention his submission attempts, which he has used to close out eight opponents. Takedowns are a favorite at 3.48 landed per 15 minutes per FightMetric, but his success percentage is only 41 percent. His strikes are powerful, but they should not be considered Lee's strong suit.
Ferguson is the favorite here for a reason. His bona fide stardom seems like just a matter of exposure. He's an insanely aggressive fighter, ready to rumble in every phase. His pace is always in hyperspace. That, more than any single technique, is El Cucuy's strength. Ferguson's strikes are varied and nasty, changing easily from punches to knees to elbows and back again. Submissions are crafty and just as nasty, with seven career submissions coming by three different methods. Chokes are his stock in trade in that area, so don't give up your back.
He likes to fight on the ground, but as his 81 percent takedown defense rate per FightMetric indicates, that tends to happen on his terms. Given that Lee is a takedown monster, this could be a fulcrum point in the fight.
Ferguson -182, Lee +130
Ferguson is still in his prime at age 33 and has 13 fights in the UFC. Lee is 25 years old and has 11 UFC contests, but he did so at a lower skill level in the aggregate. That experience gap could make the difference.
Ferguson has been straining and begging and spoiling for this chance for a long time. He has earned it, and he knows it. That experience, plus his toughness and his skill in each area of the fight seem to hold the key to overwhelming the opponent who is eight years his junior.
Ferguson, TKO, Rd. 2