UFC 216: Ferguson vs. Lee
We’re back again, fight fans! UFC 216 goes down at the UFC’s home base of Las Vegas, Nevada, at the T-Mobile Arena. The pay-per-view event is headlined by an interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee. Pound-for-pound king Demetrious Johnson faces Ray Borg in the co-main event with Johnson looking to set the record for consecutive title defenses. We did incredibly well our last time out, so let’s keep it up here. On to the picks!
Main Card (PPV)
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Tony Ferguson ($8,900) vs. Kevin Lee ($7,300)
Tony Ferguson takes on Kevin Lee in the main event for the promotion’s interim lightweight championship. Ferguson has been nothing short of spectacular lately, as he is in the midst of an incredible 9-fight winning streak, with big wins over Rafael dos Anjos and Edson Barboza. He’s been truly dominant, with 6 finishes in those 9 wins. Kevin Lee rides into this bout with a lot of momentum as well, having won his last 5 bouts, finishing his opponents in his last 4 fights in a row. He’s 9-2 overall in the UFC, and looks to become a fixture in the title picture at lightweight.
This fight is a big one for me, as I’m truly a big Ferguson fan. I’ve been calling for an “El Cucuy” match-up with Conor McGregor since 2015, and a win over Lee could make that match-up a reality. Ferguson does a lot of things very well, especially on the defensive side. He has great striking defense at 65%, as well as an outstanding takedown defense rate at 81%. He’s also incredibly devastating offensively, with a varied striking arsenal, as well as a deadly submission game, specialzing in D’Arce chokes. Lee is also a great fighter defensively, with a 53% striking defense rate, as well as a 73% takedown defense rate. He doesn’t possess a high takedown accuracy rate, but will work tirelessly to land multiple takedowns during his fights, averaging about 2.5 per bout.
This should be an excellent fight with plenty of action for every type of MMA fan. Ferguson is one of the most underrated fighters that I’ve ever seen compete, and would be the top dog at 155 lbs. if not for Conor Mcgregor, in my opinion. As for Lee, he’s already one of the very best in the division, while just now really reaching his potential, and the sky is the limit. I expect this bout to be highly competitive for the first 2 to 3 rounds, with both guys staying busy and landing plenty of offense. I believe Ferguson is just on another level at this point, and that Lee has not fought anyone of his caliber just yet. I think that Ferguson catches Lee getting sloppy late in the bout, finishing him off with his D’Arce choke. The pick is Ferguson by 4th round submission.
Demetrious Johnson ($9,700) vs. Ray Borg ($6,500)
Originally scheduled for UFC 215, Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg face off in the co-main event here at UFC 216, after Borg was forced to withdraw from the original pairing due to illness. Johnson has proven to be one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters the UFC has ever seen, winning 12 straight bouts, including a record tying 10 straight title defenses. A win over Borg would give him sole possession of the record, breaking the tie shared with Anderson Silva. Johnson has beaten the “who’s who” of the flyweight division, with wins over Joseph Benavidez (twice), John Dodson (twice), Olympian Henry Cejudo, and The Ultimate Fighter winner Tim Elliot. Borg has gone 5-2 in his UFC career, and is in the middle of a 2-fight win streak. He gets this match-up with Johnson as a formality, as the champs has effectively cleared out the entirety of the division.
Johnson is one of the biggest favorites in UFC history, and for good reason. The last time I saw the champion even remotely tested, was a draw with Ian McCall back in 2012. Again, this fight is basically a showcase for DJ to break Anderson Silva’s record, before presumably moving on to super-fights with heavier fighters. Johnson does everything at an elite level, with high percentage rates in every statistical category worth tracking. He out-strikes, out-wrestles, and out-grapples every opponent he’s faced at flyweight, and should run right through Borg. I’m taking Johnson here, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him finish this one early, reminiscent of his bout with Cejudo. I don’t believe you can fit him into your lineup with such a high price point, but if possible, there are no surer bets. The pick is Johnson by TKO early in the 2nd round.
Fabricio Werdum ($8,700) vs. Derrick Lewis ($7,500)
This is an interesting heavyweight bout, with stakes high for both fighters. Fabricio Werdum needs a win here to get back into the title picture, after going 1-2 since unifying the heavyweight belts with a win over Cain Velasquez. Before the 1-2 skid, Werdum won 6 fights in a row, with most coming by finish. Lewis recently saw his own 6-fight winning streak come to an end when he was TKO’d by Mark Hunt in Australia back in June. After flirting with retirement, the heavy-handed brawler decided to keep fighting, and now needs a win badly to stay relevant in the chase for the heavyweight title.
This will be a fun clash of styles, as Werdum obviously specializes in jiu-jitsu, and has a fairly disciplined striking game. Lewis meanwhile, is a wild man, and throws extremely heavy leather, while sacrificing his gas tank in the process. This one isn’t hard to dissect, as there are clear paths to victory for both. I’ve counted Lewis out in the past, due to his one-trick pony style of relying on catching his opponents with wild, looping punches. He’s made me regret it on numerous occasions, and if he can stay vertical against Werdum, he has a chance to find his chin and put him out. My issue with that, is that I don’t see Werdum playing that game, and should follow through with his own plan of attack. I think Werdum stays disciplined, and avoids the bombs from Lewis. Lewis will tire quickly, leaving Werdum to take him down and submit him fast. The pick is Werdum by submission late in the 1st round.
Beneil Dariush ($9,000) vs. Evan Dunham ($7,200)
Opening the main card on pay-per-view is a compelling match-up between #12 ranked lightweight Beneil Darisuh, and long-time UFC veteran Evan Dunham. Dariush comes into this bout on the heels of a devastating KO by flying knee from Edson Barboza. Before the KO loss, he had won 7 of 8 bouts, inching closer towards title contention. Dunham debuted at UFC 95 back in 2009, and has carved out a pretty successful career for himself, going 11-6 with the promotion, and currently has a 4-fight winning streak following 3 straight losses to elite competition.
This should be an exciting bout to watch, as both guys have styles that make fights compelling to every fan. Dariush is an extremely polished fighter, with great striking skills, as well as an awesome submission game. Dunham is also well-rounded, but definitely excels more in the ground game, as he’s a highly skilled black-belt. While Dunmham has been impressive in his past 4 bouts, he hasn’t fought the caliber of fighter that Dariush is, since his 3-fight losing streak to Rafael dos Anjos, Donald Cerrone, and Edson Barboza. Dariush is going to push him on the feet, and I don’t know that Dunham can take him down. I think this one stays competitive throughout, with Dariush coming out ahead on the exchanges. The pick is Dariush by unanimous decision.
Preliminary Card (FXX)
Will Brooks ($8,600) vs. Nik Lentz ($7,600)
Former Bellator lightweight king Will Brooks looks to get back to his winning ways against veteran Nik Lentz. Brooks dominated the lightweight division for 2 years before making his way over to the UFC where his transition has not been a successful one. After winning 8 straight bouts in Bellator, Brooks defeated Ross Pearson in his UFC debut, before dropping 2 straight against Alex Oliveira and Charles Oliveira. What’s alarming about the losses was that he was brutally finished by Alex, while also being submitted by Charles. Lentz has been a solid gatekeeper for the promotion, while winning enough bouts to call his UFC career a successful one. He’s posted an 11-5-2 record within the UFC, but has lost his high-profile opportunities against the likes of Chad Mendes and Evan Dunham.
It’s been an unfortunate run for Brooks in the UFC thus far, and it’s a shame he hasn’t fared better, because there are a lot of potential match-ups for him that look amazing on paper. He’s much more skilled than his UFC record indicates, and I just hope that the bright lights aren’t too much for him. He’s very accurate in his striking game with a 58% success rate on his significant strikes, and has defended the takedown extremely well with an 81% defense rate. That last stat will come in handy against Lentz, who is a grinder that relies on his wrestling game offensively and defensively, as his striking game is limited at best. His accuracy isn’t the greatest, but he has landed multiple takedowns in the majority of his UFC bouts.
I think this is the bout that Brooks finally gets his bearings right in the UFC. While Lentz is no easy out, Brooks is equipped to handle him. As long as he defends the takedown like I know he can, he should be able to pick Lentz apart on the feet. I think he shucks the takedown attempts, and brutalizes Lentz in the stand-up, taking home a finish in the middle of the fight. The pick is Brooks by TKO late in the 2nd round.
Lando Vannata ($8,800) vs. Bobby Green ($7,400)
Though buried on the preliminary card, this bout has Fight of the Night written all over it, and I’d be shocked if it doesn’t live up to that billing. Lando Vannata looks to shake off a disappointing loss in his last bout, when he takes on Bobby Green. Vannata was a huge favorite in his last bout, though ultimately dropped a unanimous decision to David Teymur. Vannata has won 3 bonuses in his 3 appearances in the UFC, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to make this bout the favorite to take home another honor. Green will also look to reverse his fortunes as a 3-fight losing streak has effectively erased memories of his 8-fight winning streak amassed between Strikeforce and the UFC.
The aggressive styles of both fighters should quickly win over casual MMA fans who may have never seen either man compete. I think this will be one of the rare occasions where a short fight ends up being so spectacular while it lasts, that it still wins Fight of the Night despite the short duration. Vanatta and Green will come out fast basically looking to take each other out as quickly as possible. I think Vanatta will have the edge, as he is younger, has taken way less punishment, and should be the more technical of the two. Green will do his best to shake Vanatta with his trash talk, but I think Vanatta clips him early in a wild exchange. I believe the first round gets the crowd to their feet, before the bout ends early in the 2nd round. Vanatta will end Green’s night with a highlight-reel KO finish.
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)
Magomed Bibulatov ($9,300) vs. John Moraga ($6,900)
Magomed Bibulatov looks to continue the auccess of the top Russian talent in the UFC, when he faces former flyweight title challenger, John Moraga. Bibulatov was successful in his first UFC appearance, a unanimous decision win over Jenel Lausa. Before the move to the UFC, Bibulatov reigned as flyweight champion in the World Series of Fighting promotion. Moraga comes into this bout with some momentum, as the UFC vet halted a 3-fight losing streak with a unanimous decision victory over Ashkan Mokhtarian.
This is a bout that will weigh heavily on me throughout the night, for one big reason. Though I believe Bibulatov probably wins this bout, I still advise players to throw Moraga into your lineups. I know that sounds goofy, but hear me out. So far, I have been heavy on favorites, as I truly believe a lot of underdogs are severely outgunned on Saturday. That being said, we have to find value elsewhere, or a lineup will be virtually impossible to construct. Moraga is a scrappy vet, and is more than capable of upsetting Bibulatov, as the Russian has yet to fight anyone even approaching Moraga’s caliber. Even if that does not happen, and Bibulatov does come away victorious, I find it highly unlikely that he dominates Moraga, meaning Moraga should score you enough points in defeat to keep your lineups alive if the favorites win big like they should. While I’m taking Bibulatov to win a close decision, go ahead and throw Moraga into your lineups.
Brad Tavares ($8,300) vs. Thales Leites ($7,900)
Longtime UFC veterans Brad Tavares and Thales Leites look to take a step forward towards the middleweight rankings when they battle each other in a preliminary bout on UFC Fight Pass. Tavares has won 2 straight bouts following a rough 1-3 stretch, and has an impressive 10-4 record overall in the promotion, rather quietly at that. Leites halted his own 1-3 stretch with a tough win over Sam Alvey in April. The Brazilian looked to be making another run at a title fight in his second stint with the UFC, but faltered as of late against elite competition.
Though this bout has 2 familiar names, and fighters who have had a fair amount of success in the UFC, this is definitely my pick for the snoozer fight. Again, both guys have had plenty of success in their respective careers, but stylistically I don’t believe either man has what it takes to find a finish in this one, nor put on a spectacular performance that goes the distance. Tavares likes to fight at a distance, and will labor through his bouts. Leites too will essentially will his way through his bouts, albeit on the floor where he smothers his opponents with his elite jiu-jitsu. This is a tough one to call, as it’s anyone’s guess who will impose their strengths. I’m going to roll with Leites. I think he can do enough to not take a bad amount of damage, and should land enough takedowns to sway the judges on the scorecards. I’m taking Leites by decision, with his grappling as the deciding factor in this one.