The UFC returns on Saturday after a three week absence which felt like an eternity, but the UFC are making it up to us with 10 events between now and the end of the year. This week we will be treated to a lightweight fight between former champion Rafael Dos Anjos and rising contender Tony Ferguson in Mexico City.
Rafael Dos Anjos is looking to bounce back after losing the lightweight title in his first defence in the summer to Eddie Alvarez. Before that fight he was in the midst of one of the greatest runs anybody has ever put together in lightweight MMA. Over 18 months he fought and beat Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone and he didn’t just beat those fighters, he dominated them.
Henderson and Cerrone lasted less than a round before succumbing to Dos Anjos’ swarming power strikes. Diaz and Pettis made it to the final bell but they didn’t fare any better, they didn’t win a round between them and they took a lot of damage, Diaz to his legs and Pettis to his eye. Dos Anjos was undoubtedly the best lightweight in the world at this time and it looked like he may reign for a long time to come, but it was not to be.
Dos Anjos is the consummate pressure fighter, he pushes forward behind his jab and uses looping shots like hooks, body kicks and leg kicks to punish his opponents lateral movement. This aspect of his game was most effective against Anthony Pettis who struggles with getting backed up the fence and Dos Anjos made him pay. He does this not only with strikes but also with takedowns. Once he has his opponent trapped against the fence he will initiate a clinch and try to take the fight to the ground where he can use his heavy ground and pound and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt to full effect.
Tony Ferguson is currently on an eight fight winning streak which includes five submission finishes, with three of them being D’Arce chokes. It has been one of the most exciting stories in the UFC over the last two years. His last two contests have won “Fight of the Night” honours and have been spectacular fights. First it was a back and forth battle with Edson Barboza, and this was followed up with a fight against short notice replacement Lando Vannata. Ferguson was hurt by Vannata at times and it looked like he could be on the wrong end of an upset as he was struggling with Vannata’s funky style of striking but Ferguson was eventually able to impose his jab and make use of his reach advantage and finally finish the plucky newcomer.
These two match up well and it should be a close and competitive fight. In the striking department, Ferguson is longer and has the more dynamic weapons at his disposal but he can get reckless and overconfident in striking exchanges and create more problems for himself than he needs to, which was shown clearly in the Lando Vannata fight. One way that Ferguson’s height can be used is against him is that there is a lot of body for Dos Anjos to aim his left kick at, this is one of Dos Anjos’ most potent weapons and it can change the fight in an instant, ask Donald Cerrone. Ferguson will need to use his size and reach to his advantage and keep Dos Anjos’ away from him, this will require using his jab to maintain distance and being careful not to get backed up to the fence.
If he does get backed up to the fence then Dos Anjos has the ability to keep him there for long periods with the clinch and to drag him down to the ground, but Dos Anjos will need to be very careful if he spends any time in Ferguson’s guard. Ferguson is an extremely active submission hunter, even from his back. He will throw up those long legs for armbars and triangles and he will try to roll for leg locks.
One factor to be aware of here is that Rafael Dos Anjos has left Kings MMA and trainer Rafael Cordeiro. He spent some time there early in his camp but now is thought to be assembling his own team. Cordeiro is a Muay Thai master and the impact he has had on Dos Anjos’ career is impossible to overstate. Both fighter and coach maintain that their relationship is good, that there was no falling out or anything of the sorts, but it is worth noting and keeping an eye on how Dos Anjos fares without Master Cordeiro by his side.
Elsewhere on the card, it is the UFC debut of Polish submission ace Marcin Held. Held competed in Bellator for a long time and he gave Bellator lightweights and knee surgeons everywhere nightmares with aggressive leg lock hunting submission game. He challenged Will Brooks for the Bellator lightweight title this time last year and in the first round it looked like he had Brooks, but the American survived and was able to neutralise Held for the remainder of the fight. This could be a rough night for Diego Sanchez, which would be harsh after his last fight in Mexico didn’t go his way either.
The man who ruined Sanchez’ night on that occasion was Ricardo Lamas, and he is competing on Saturday too against Charles Oliveira. Lamas has come up short twice as he has attempted to climb back towards a title shot following defeat to Jose Aldo, first it was Chad Mendes, most recently Max Holloway. Oliveira has also had a strange time of it lately. He lost to Max Holloway due to a freak neck injury, he bounced back with a win against Myles Jury but dropped his last fight against Anthony Pettis. Oliveira has had problems with making weight in the past so his cardio could be a problem in the altitude of Mexico City.
Lastly, I want to highlight Alexa Grasso who is making her UFC debut. Grasso is 23 year old Mexican strawweight who has been making waves in Invicta over the last couple of years. In February 2015 she took on Mizuki Inoue (who was fresh off a split decision defeat to future strawweight challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz) and the two put on an exciting and technical fight with Grasso winning a fight that was close, but still clear. She has been pegged as a future strawweight champion since that day.
Unfortunately injuries delayed her a little, she would surely have fought for Invicta gold by now had she not had to wait over a year for her next outing. It was worth the wait though, as she dismantled Jodie Esquibel in the Invicta 18 main event. Grasso has an incredibly clean and technical kickboxing game, her hands are especially sharp. There is nothing too fancy about how she goes about her business, her 1–2 is the staple of her game but everything is done with such precision that she is a joy to watch in full flow. Heather Jo Clark could have a very tough night ahead of her as UFC fans get their first look at this super prospect.
Main Card (BT Sport, 2am GMT)
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Tony Ferguson – Dos Anjos. I believe he will wear Ferguson down and take enough rounds in a close fight
Martin Bravo vs. Claudio Puelles (TUF Latin America 3 lightweight final) – Bravo.
Marcin Held vs. Diego Sanchez – Held. endear himself to UFC fans by making mincemeat of Sanchez’ knee joint.
Ricardo Lamas vs. Charles Oliveira – Oliveira. To capitalise on a Lamas mistake and win via choke
Beneil Dariush vs. Rashid Magomedov – Dariush. Great fight this, dark horse for FotN
Alexa Grasso vs. Heather Clark – Grasso. Will make it look easy in front of her home crows.
Preliminary Card (BT Sport, Midnight GMT)
Erik Perez vs. Felipe Arantes – Perez
Marco Beltran vs. Joe Soto – Beltran
Erick Montano vs. Max Griffin – Griffin
Henry Briones vs. Douglas Silva de Andrade – Briones
Preliminary Card (Fight Pass, 10:30 PM GMT)
Sam Alvey vs. Alex Nicholson – Alvey. Big KO.
Marco Polo Reyes vs. Jason Novelli – Polo Reyes. If you have not seen Polo Reyes v Dong Hyun Kim then please correct that immediately
Chris Avila vs. Enrique Barzola – Barzola
Ryan’s Betting Tip
A treble of Sam Alvey, Beneil Dariush and Marcin Held at 4.80