UFC 216: Ferguson vs. Lee Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC 216 card in Las Vegas.
Updated: Oct. 4, 2017 • 9:15 PM ET
Tony Ferguson will attempt to win his first lightweight title this Saturday.
UFC 216 goes down in Las Vegas this Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena, and the winner of the card’s main event could be positioned for the biggest fight of their career.
No. 2 ranked lightweight Tony Ferguson and No. 7 ranked Kevin Lee will fight for the interim lightweight title in Saturday’s main event. The winner could be set up for a possible fight with lightweight champion Conor McGregor, which would be the biggest fight of either of their careers against the UFC’s biggest star.
Ferguson is riding a nine-fight win streak, but he hasn’t fought in nearly a year. His last fight was a unanimous decision victory over former champion Rafael Dos Anjos in November, and he was previously scheduled to fight for the interim title at UFC 209 in March against No. 1 ranked lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov. But Nurmagomedov dropped out of the fight due to illness the day before the event.
Ferguson has proven to be one of the most durable fighters in the UFC, let alone in the lightweight division. He has a wide array of skills, but perhaps his best attribute is his excellent conditioning and cardio. He was pushed to the limit in his fight with Dos Anjos, so a five-round battle isn’t unusual territory.
The heated rivalry between Ferguson and Lee began after Lee’s victory over Michael Chiesa in June. During the Post Fight Show on FS1, the two began verbally assaulting one another on live television after Ferguson asked Lee about a situation in the fight. After the dispute, the fight seemed to make sense, but Nurmagomedov was offered another shot at Ferguson and the interim title instead of Lee.
In the latest edition of the UFC’s “Watch List” series, UFC SVP of Talent Relations Sean Shelby revealed that the promotion offered Nurmagomedov a fight with Ferguson to take place at UFC 217 in November.
“Just to clear things up, a fight was offered to Nurmagomedov on Nov. 4 (at UFC 217), and at that point, we were trying to put cards together toward the end of the year,” Shelby said. “I was informed that he could not make that date, and he probably wouldn’t be able to fight until at least December, so that left Tony without a dance partner.”
When Nurmagomedov didn’t take the fight, Lee gladly jumped at the opportunity to headline UFC 216.
The 25-year-old Lee is riding a long win streak of his own that spans five fights. Overall, he’s 9-2 in the UFC and appeared on UFC fans’ radars after his pre-fight trash talk and performance against Chiesa. At the UFC Summer Kickoff Press Conference in May, Lee and Chiesa had to be physically separated after Lee made a comment about Chiesa’s mother. Chiesa began walking toward Lee, who responded with a right hand. Cheap shot or not, Lee made his mark with that interaction and solidified it with a dominating win by submission over Chiesa in the actual fight.
Ferguson and Lee do similar things well in the Octagon, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the later rounds, should the fight make it that far. Lee has never fought outside of three rounds, a time when Ferguson has shown he can shine. Both men pose a great threat to McGregor, and if one of them can win in convincing fashion, the fight against McGregor could be an easy sell.
UFC 216’s co-main event will feature another title fight; but for one fighter, the bout is a shot at UFC immortality. Demetrious Johnson will defend his flyweight title against No. 3 flyweight Ray Borg, and a victory for Johnson would give him the all-time record of 11 successful title defenses, passing Hall of Famer Anderson Silva’s long-running title reign. The fight with Borg was originally scheduled to take place at UFC 215, but an illness forced Borg to withdraw just days before the main event.
Johnson is arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter on Earth and continues to get better every time he steps in the Octagon. He displays a new skill-set in every fight and continues to defy all doubt his critics throw at him.
Twenty-four-year-old Borg is on a two-fight win streak and last fought in March. He has had issues making 125 pounds in previous fights, but vows it had nothing to do with his removal from UFC 215.
“Sometimes you can’t put off the inevitable,” Borg said via MMAjunkie. “Everyone at my camp was sick. My wife was sick. I was just banking on not catching it, but it happened. There’s not a whole lot you can do. I’ve been taking my proper vitamins and taking care of myself.”
If Borg can pull off the upset, he would be just the second flyweight champion in UFC history, while also putting an end to one of the greatest win streaks in MMA history.
Rest of the main card
Also on the main card is a heavyweight fight between No. 2 ranked Fabricio Werdum and No. 6 Derrick Lewis. Forty-year-old Werdum has lost two of his last three fights, which includes a title loss to current champion Stipe Miocic. His last fight was a close decision loss to Alistair Overeem, and his last victory was over Travis Browne at UFC 203 last September.
Lewis was on a six-fight win streak until his knockout loss to Mark Hunt in June. A win over former champion Werdum would without a doubt be the biggest in his career. Lewis is a KO machine, and getting to Werdum early will his biggest key to victory.
Rounding out the main card is a lightweight fight between No. 12 Beneil Dariush and No. 14 Evan Dunham. Dariush is 8-3 in the UFC, but he’s coming off a brutal KO loss to Edson Barboza, which has Knockout of the Year potential.
Dunham, 38 years old, has won four straight fights after losing three straight. He hasn’t fought in more than a year, but he won Fight of the Night honors in his last bout, a decision win over Rick Glenn.
Bantamweight fight: Tom Duquesnoy vs. Cody Stamann
Lightweight fight: Will Brooks vs. Nik Lentz
Lightweight fight: Lando Vannata vs. Bobby Green
Women’s strawweight fight: Pearl Gonzalez vs. Poliana Botelho
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims
Heavyweight fight: Walt Harris vs. Mark Godbeer
Flyweight fight: No. 11 John Moraga vs. No. 15 Magomed Bibulatov
Middleweight fight: No. 13 Thales Leites vs. Brad Tavares
Flyweight fight: Matt Schnell vs. Marco Beltran