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UFC 216 fight card: Tony Ferguson vs Kevin Lee preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Dos Anjos vs Ferguson Etzel Espinosa-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight killers Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee will clash TONIGHT (Oct. 7, 2017) at UFC 216 inside T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Winning nine fights inside the Octagon is a huge accomplishment, let alone when done consecutively in the sport’s toughest division. Ferguson has proven himself a top-tier Lightweight, and this is “El Cucuy’s” moment to add a (interim) title to his list of accomplishments.

Meanwhile, Lee has always been regarded as a quality prospect, but few suspected he would become a top 10 Lightweight and contender so quickly. He’ll have a chance to justify that rise and make the most of his star potential opposite Ferguson.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man.

Tony Ferguson

Record: 22-3

Key Wins: Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Fight Night 98), Edson Barboza (TUF 22 Finale), Josh Thomson (UFC Fight Night 71), Gleison Tibau (UFC 184)

Key Losses: Michael Johnson (UFC on FOX 3)

Keys to Victory: Ferguson is an offense-first fighter with skills in all areas. He’s also one of the best conditioned athletes on the planet, able to push a ludicrous pace regardless of what his opponent throws back at him.

In this bout, Ferguson has a pretty massive advantage on the feet. Not only does he hold the technical edge, but Ferguson is both more powerful and more durable in exchanges.

Lee, meanwhile, will be looking for the takedown whenever a chance arises.

Luckily, Ferguson does his best work as a counter wrestler. At range, he should be firing straight punches, shooting kicks up the middle, and hacking away at Lee’s legs. If Lee tries to move closer before shooting, Ferguson can swing away with elbows.

Once Lee does shoot, Ferguson should be looking to attack. It doesn’t matter whether he punishes Lee with strikes or choke attempts, but Ferguson has to keep the offense on him and whittle his foe away.

Kevin Lee

Record: 16-2

Key Wins: Michael Chiesa (UFC Fight Night 112), Francisco Trinaldo (UFC Fight Night 106), Michele Prazeres (UFC Fight Night 60), Jake Matthews (TUF 23 Finale)

Key Losses: Leonardo Santos (UFC 194), Al Iaquinta (UFC 169)

Keys to Victory: One of the division’s premiere athletes, Lee has done a great job of growing his game while competing inside the Octagon. Despite the improved kickboxing, the bottom line remains that Lee wants to get on top of his opponent, rough him up, and sink in a choke.

Lee is definitely the underdog here, but his back control is a proven game changer. If able to get to that position, Lee can do major damage, slow Ferguson down, and even potentially finish the fight.

Looking at all the fighters who have tried and failed to take Ferguson down recently, that’s a tough task. However, Ferguson’s weirdness does leave openings. Timing one of them with a big takedown will be pivotal for Lee, as it’s largely his only realistic path to victory.

Once on the mat with Ferguson, Lee has to be ready to scramble. If he focuses on hunkering down and keeping Ferguson pinned, that plays into his foe’s strategy of rolls and wild escapes. Instead, he has to move with Ferguson and throw the hooks during Ferguson’s movement.

Bottom Line: It’s an excellent battle with a title sort of on the line.

While Conor McGregor was off doing McGregor things (i.e. making a lot of money), the original interim title bout was supposed to Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov. In my mind, that bout would have determined the man most deserving to hold the strap anyway, see as how dominant those two have been opposite many top Lightweights.

A weight cut ruined that fight, and the UFC screwed us all by booking Justin Gaethje to waste time on The Ultimate Fighter, so this really is the next best option.

For Ferguson, it’s a chance to cap off a remarkable run. It also gives him a solid chance at actually fighting McGregor, the sport’s biggest money fight. That would be a well-deserved payday for a fighter who has paid his dues, and Ferguson would have a great chance in that bout as well.

The stakes are similarly high for Lee as well. A win here doesn’t give him an argument for No. 1 quite like it does for Ferguson, but ending “El Cucuy’s” win streak is a massive accomplishment. Holding the interim strap does give Lee a fair chance at fighting “The Notorious,” but there’s also a higher probability that McGregor faces off with Nate Diaz a third time if Lee wins.

That’s now fair, but that’s how it is.

TONIGHT at UFC 216, Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee will go to war in the main event. Which fighter will leave the cage with the belt?

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