UFC Fight Night: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Tony Ferguson

By: S. Davis

rda

In what may be the fight to determine the next disgruntled independent contractor, the winner between Rafael dos Anjos and Tony Ferguson will move one step closer to the belt. This fight between proven competitors in the deepest weight class in MMA is going unnoticed due to the festivities taking place in the greatest city in the world next weekend. Ferguson has amassed an eight fight win streak and yet he has to climb the former champion of the division just to sniff an opportunity that’s not guaranteed to be offered. As the former UFC lightweight champion – with actual title defenses – dos Anjos could’ve made a fantastic argument to get an immediate rematch…but no.

So here we are…

Based solely on the skills that each fighter brings to the table, it has all the ingredients for a breathtaking battle. They enter with contrasting styles that balance each other out. Ferguson will look to move forward with slick striking and the true threat of a flash submission attempt. Meanwhile dos Anjos prefers to stalk, calmly, while using ring control to take angles away from his opponent (while creating some of his own) to ensure he directs the terms of engagement. The former champion will look to dictate pace and use his refined, deadly, striking as more than some minuscule wrinkle to set up his jiu-jitsu and offensive wrestling. He’s going to move forward to hunt for the dynamic finish.

It’s going to be important to pay close attention to his strategy this weekend. RDA split with Kings MMA – which set him on the path to become the killer that he currently is in the division when it seemed he was destined to be a high-level journeyman type. Which dos Anjos is stepping into action on Saturday? I think the inquiry is fair. I don’t think he’s done by any means – in fact I feel he’ll regain the title at some point in the near future – but I wonder if some of his old habits will reappear.

How talented is Ferguson? He’s faced stiff competition at every instance…and has yet to sniff a title shot. Really? Yes. This is the UFC world we all are all citizens of. He’s sporting a long win streak – with his last loss coming in 2012 – and still has to turn back the former champion to hope for the title opportunity he wants. There’s got to be one if he claims a victory this weekend, right? (Although I do have the feeling that Khabib Nurmagomedov will have a lot to say about that.) It’s almost insane if a title shot isn’t up for grabs here. If Michael Johnson can upset Nurmagomedov (equally qualified for a championship bout) the victorious fighter will be on a direct path to that shiny gold belt – unless the challenger takes a loss in the UFC 205 main event and receives an immediate rematch for some odd reason – or, at the very least, a title eliminator with Nurmagomedov.

Ferguson wins if RDA reverts to his pre-Kings MMA form. Ferguson is a threat every second he’s in the cage and it’s a label that gets thrown around too casually but his unpredictability makes the compliment apt. In that area he’s all but unmatched in the entire sport at this moment in time. If he can goad RDA into a firefight and force him to over commit to an attack, a submission attempt will materialize and he’ll strike out of thin air. When two elite athletes face off the fight can either be stellar or one that can induce slumber. I strongly lean towards the former as the man who earns the win is placed on the V.I.P. list at lightweight. Ferguson is going to have to pick his chances and might have to spend a large portion of the night counterattacking. I’m not sure he’ll be able to hold himself back.

Dos Anjos wins if he stays true to himself and hasn’t made any significant (e.g., drastic) changes since his last defeat. HE DID NOT get exposed by current UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez; the right hand that found flesh and marked the end of dos Anjos’ reign slipped through solid defense. The UFC issued gloves are four ounces and Alvarez hits like a hammer so I don’t feel that loss is indicative of some slide. RDA should be more calculated than Ferguson if history holds true. He has everything to get his hand raised at the end of the night. If his cage control and awareness remains intact and he can back Ferguson against the cage, the odds tilt in his favor. From that distance, dos Anjos will be able to hamper Ferguson’s variety of attacks exponentially.

Ferguson should be taking part in next week’s main event – a stellar case could be made for RDA and Nurmagomedov as well – but he isn’t popular enough to sit atop the marquee in New York City. I get that. UFC 205 is a big deal and marketing must reflect that but there’s no way the first foray into NYC – at Madison Square Garden, no less – wouldn’t be a success…no matter the headlining match.

I can see a quick finish here, by either man, based solely on pure adrenaline of what’s happening a week from now. I wonder if nerves will play a factor of any kind. If I couldn’t view the fight live and I heard it ended in the first round, part of me would think RDA got a TKO while another part of me would think El Cucuy found a highlight reel submission. I almost wish this fight was next week but it’s a net positive that it gets to shine in its very own spotlight.

Picks: RDA, Diego Sanchez over Marcin Held, Ricardo Lamas over Charles Oliveira, Martin Bravo over Claudio Puelles, Beneil Dariush over Rashid Magomedov and Alexa Grasso over Heather Jo Clark.

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