Cleat Geeks

Is Ferguson The Perfect Dance Partner For McGregor’s Return?

With UFC 216 over, Tony Ferguson can finally breathe a small sigh of relief. His third-round submission win over Kevin Lee was the culmination of an exciting, drama-filled weekend in the UFC. In a scene that is all too familiar with Ferguson, his opponent struggled to make weight for their interim title fight with Kevin Lee weighing in at the 25th hour of the weigh-in only to be a pound over. Due to a rather unknown rule in Nevada, the doctors cleared him to cut the additional pound with an extra hour of weight cutting opportunity. Lee hit the mark three hours after his opponent, weighing in at 154.5 pounds, making their interim title fight official. Lee joked with Ariel Helwani the day prior that he was 19 pounds over and had had eaten tiramisu. It seemed like a jab at Khabib Nurmagomedov and his weigh-in failure from UFC 209, but Lee apparently wasn’t kidding about being 19 pounds over and struggled mightily. He appeared to have a staph infection as well, which would certainly affect his ability to cut weight.

Ferguson may not have the charisma and drawing power that Nate Diaz offers, but Dana White shot down rumors of a trilogy fight quickly, stating that McGregor vs Ferguson “has to happen.”

Ferguson did what he usually does—start off slow, find an opening, wear his opponent out and wrap up a choke. He reminds me a lot of Tim Duncan, who will go down as one of the greatest to ever play in the NBA. He didn’t have any real finesse to his game, he just stayed quiet and let his game do all of the talking for him, much like Ferguson. Tony’s ripped off 10 straight in one of the thickest divisions in the UFC right now and it hasn’t always been pretty, but he continues to find ways to win. He found himself in somewhat unfamiliar territory in the closing seconds of round one with Kevin Lee raining elbows and punches from full mount. He bounced back once Lee started to slow down and was able to lock in a triangle choke after an unsuccessful armbar just a few seconds prior in the third round. He wasted little time in his post-fight interview to call out “McNugget” in an expletive-filled callout.

 

Image result for tony ferguson and conor mcgregorFerguson may not have the charisma and drawing power that Nate Diaz offers, but Dana White shot down rumors of a trilogy fight quickly, stating that McGregor vs Ferguson “has to happen.” I agree. Had Nate Diaz not beat McGregor the first time, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. He’s one of the most unreliable UFC fighters on the roster, fighting just 4 times in the last 4 calendar years. He’s 2-2 in those 4 fights, coming in 5 pounds over for his December 2014 affair with Rafael dos Anjos and getting beat handily. His other 2 wins were the first over McGregor and a one-sided beating of Michael Johnson. He’s made some ludicrous demands in regards to money as if he’s the draw and McGregor isn’t.

 

A fight between Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor needs to happen not only to unify the lightweight titles, but also because it’d surely be a fun fight to watch. Prior to his win Saturday night, Ferguson’s last 5 fights had won some form of Performance of the Night bonus. He’s finished 7 of his current 10-fight win streak and he continues to evolve inside of the Octagon. He’s more than comfortable off his back, although that’s not something he’d have to be too concerned with against McGregor, and has a very diverse striking attack on his feet. From a technical standpoint, he isn’t as precise or powerful as McGregor, but he seems to get stronger as the fight goes on. Few fighters in the UFC could match his pace over the course of a five-round fight and McGregor is not one of them.

 

For all of his accomplishments, Ferguson does have a weakness that’s been seen in his last few fights, he absorbs a lot of punches. Lando Vannata had him all but beat in the first round of their fight when he landed a flush head kick. He somehow bounced back and found a second wind in the second round but he was in all sorts of trouble. Kevin Lee, whose striking is far from great, had some success early on finding his chin with punches and even kicks. That’s great news for McGregor, who’s one of the best ever at finding his opponents’ chin. Ferguson has started slow in 3 of his last 4 fights and McGregor, by comparison, starts off fast and slows down as the fight goes on. As is the usual narrative, McGregor has his best chance of success early in the fight and that makes this fight extremely dangerous for Ferguson.

When looking at the landscape of the lightweight division, Ferguson, aside from the fact that he’s now the interim lightweight Champion, is the only suitable dance partner for McGregor. McGregor’s made it well-known that he doesn’t trust Khabib to show up for a fight on weight, and as well he shouldn’t. He’s already beat Eddie Alvarez, who’s currently booked for a match-up with Justin Gaethje. The process of elimination in the top-5 of the division leaves Edson Barboza as the only other potential match-up and that’s just not in the cards. He receives a lot of criticism for his choice of opponents but McGregor is simply looking for someone consistent who can move the needle like him. Although Ferguson wouldn’t be the biggest name in the division, to quote Dana White, ”it doesn’t just make sense, it has to happen.”

Image result for tony ferguson and conor mcgregor

Ferguson’s pressure has made many of his opponents wilt, including former lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos, who’s a great pressure fighter himself. McGregor likes to apply pressure himself but he’s also pretty comfortable counter punching, even from his back foot as we saw in the Aldo fight. Both fighters use great movement, fight with their hands mostly down and use odd angles to land shots. They’re very similar in style but McGregor is the far superior striker while Ferguson is the far superior grappler. Ferguson was being outstruck on the feet against Edson Barboza when they met in December of 2015 and he had to resort to his grappling. If there’s one area where we know McGregor isn’t supremely confident, it’s on the ground. His takedown defense against Diaz was good but he struggled against Chad Mendes at UFC 189, taken down multiple times in the first two rounds. Ferguson has sneaky takedowns and trips and that would be where he wants the fight to take place. It would, and should, be an interesting clash of styles if they meet in the Octagon to unify the titles. I look for this fight to be booked in the coming weeks and headline UFC 219 in Las Vegas on December 30. It could end up playing out a lot of different ways but it would draw the masses and it would leave one of them as the undisputed lightweight Champion.

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