UFC 209: Oh No!

By: S. Davis

209

I woke up this morning to put the finishing touches on this piece…and then I got on the internet. Should I delete this? No, I’ll post it incomplete as I was excited to dive into the subject.

The two best lightweight fighters in the world step into a cage…for the toy that’s at the bottom of the cereal box. (Do breakfast cereal companies even include toys in their products anymore?) Sorry. I’m torn on how I should feel about the clash this weekend to be honest. On one hand, sign me up! A pure contrast of styles; the exact foundation on which the entire sport of mixed martial arts was created decades ago. I’m giddy, excited, smiling from ear to ear, but then the two words appear that truly have me considering dropping the sport from the dwindling precious hours of leisure time I have: Interim Championship.

I’d rather someone farted on my sandwich right before I bit into it before another division has to deal with ego, muck and disdain from a champion who isn’t injured (and is actively chasing another fight…in a different sport). I have fully convinced myself that Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are competing for the UFC Lightweight Championship on Saturday night. Period. It just works better for me that way.

UFC Interim Lightweight Championship: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson

Nurmagomedov wins if he can glue himself to his opponent and stifle the creativity that allows Ferguson to systematically tear his opposition to pieces (while also taking some dangerous gambles). We all know the blueprint for the Eagle: close the striking range and then chain his brutal and stellar Combat Sambo and wrestling hybrid into the most effective grappling attack in the entire sport…unless your name is Demian Maia.

At that point he can launch an endless array of trips, double-legs, wizards, leg sweeps, knee taps, single legs, traditional throws, suplexes, etc. He blends grappling techniques that don’t necessarily bleed into one another traditionally: setting up a judo throw while closing distance to catch wrestle while mixing in freestyle wrestling and jiu-jitsu which then culminates in lethal ground and pound.

Insert deeper analysis here…

Ferguson wins if he finds a way to curb his instinctual urge to be wild, just enough to avoid finding himself eating punches and elbows while he’s fighting off his back because he was sloppy one too many times and served Nurmagomedov an effortless takedown. For a long time, Jon Jones chose to be labeled as a freestyle fighter during introductions and it’s applicable to Ferguson as well. He studies his opponent during battle and sifts through all the ways he can inflict damage while making it seem like he’s fighting on a completely different level of existence. His talent and plethora of weapons are undeniable.

You want to make the fight a striking showcase? He excels there. Do you want to engage in dirty boxing with some clinch work? He’ll adjust accordingly and carve your flesh with sharp, precise, elbows and knees. You want to test the limits of his ground game? Be careful with any movement because he will snatch your neck with one of the quickest and most technical D’Arce chokes in the world. Another skill worth mentioning: Wrestling is his base; don’t forget that.

El Cucuy has the greatest chance of becoming champion the longer he manages to keep the fight on striking terms. The Eagle isn’t a novice there but his chances of capturing gold favor him the more times he can clasp his hands together around his opponent. Mixed martial arts are about using what you do well to tip the scales in your favor. A slightly measured and committed Ferguson could win the battle on points if he’s composed.

A huge key will be takedown defense. He should take a look at the footage from the Gleison Tibau bout versus Nurmagomedov. Tibau was diligent in using his left arm as a lever whenever the talented grappler tried to secure a double-leg. Nurmagomedov tried, in vain, to shift his own weight forward onto the left side of Tibau to secure the takedown but the arm placement, strength and dedication to keeping this left arm close to his ribs allowed him to use the limb as a counter to make sure he wouldn’t spend the night under a man who wrestles bears as an escape from training.

I’m hesitant to say that Ferguson will stick to a formulated strategy for the duration of the championship contest (however long it should last) but I do feel confident that he won’t be afraid to hit the mat a few times. Personally I do think he has the talent to battle back to his feet but there are so many times one should opt to play around with lighter fluid, right?

Both fighters have been orbiting the throne of the sport and are hours away from making a dream into a reality (one symbolized in gold).

Again, the fight has been cancelled as Nurmagomedov had to visit a hospital as a direct result of his weight cut but he has since been released and is recuperating. Get well and rest up. 

I felt that both men earned the right to fight for the true championship but I gave a slight preference to Ferguson since he’s been active and healthy. He should be slated to challenge the lightweight title holder if said title holder ever gets around to making a defense.

UFC Welterweight Championship: Tyron Woodley (C) vs. Stephen Thompson

I went with Woodley at UFC 205 to retain, and while I was technically correct, I couldn’t forecast a draw. It’s common knowledge in combat sports to favor the fighter who lost the first meeting when a rematch is announced. For whatever reason that fighter enters the rematch having made key adjustments to their skill set while sharpening their flaws – and maybe the determination to even the score aids them the second time around.

There wasn’t a winner in November so which fighter will make the adjustments necessary to walk out of the cage the victor? I can see Woodley going all out if he staggers Thompson to chase the finish. Additionally, I do think he will use his wrestling more than he did in their first chapter. Wonderboy needs to shore up his defense and be diligent about keeping his left hand close to his head. I wonder if he’s been using knee attacks this training camp. If Woodley chooses to grapple more actively, an opening may present itself for a crushing knee that could change the fight.

Mark Hunt vs. Alistair Overeem

With the litigation, presently, transpiring between Hunt and the UFC one has to wonder if he’s sharp, mentally, this weekend. We all know how important it is for a fighter – maybe above other athletes – to be of sound mind. It puzzles me how everyone kicks dirt on the heavy guys for having glass chins – and the disrespect that hovers the entire division at-large. Has anyone stopped to think that humans that strong aren’t meant to punch one another with small gloves?

I can see Overeem winning a point-fighting contest. On volume alone he could secure a victory by staying in kicking range and copying the patient strategy that he ridiculously abandoned when he almost captured UFC gold against Stipe Miocic. The fact that this fight is three rounds leans heavily in his favor but Hunt only needs one shot to connect so the length of the fight may not matter ultimately.

A brief thought about Georges St-Pierre:

So I heard that he’s cutting past every deserving middleweight and will compete for the 185 title? The nerve! I HATTTTE everything! I’m joking, naturally. How is this fight a cause for so much anger? Really, this is Pandora’s Box?

The hypocrisy of MMA fans is hilarious. Do I like the fight? Not really, to be honest but at least GSP has a track record of being a dominant fighter – with title defenses – that bolster his case to bypass the queue. He’s one of the greatest fighters – the best ever, along with Jones, in my opinion – with a resume that speaks for itself. Like him or not, I like Michael Bisping as UFC Middleweight Champion; is it his fault that Luke Rockhold treated him like an unworthy competitor and served his chin nice and high on a platter?

For all the crying about Dan Henderson not “deserving” a championship opportunity: Was that meeting a wipeout? Most of the viewing public was split on whether Hendo should be wearing the belt right now.

“Deserving” as it pertains to MMA is absolutely devoid of all merit and/or logic.

It’s odd how fans crying over this news happen to be the same ones that had no problem with the current lightweight champion jumping the line, talking his way into title fights, while simultaneously avoiding the top contenders in two divisions. This here, though, is wrong?

Maybe GSP missed the adrenaline or the spotlight – although he never seemed to be thirsty for fame – but I would feel infinitely better about this if he was 32 years old and not 36, which he will be at the time he and Bisping meet in the cage.

Picks: Thompson, Hunt, Lando Vannata and Rashad Evans.

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.