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Keys to Victory! Who will win Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee UFC 216 main event fight tonight

MMA: The Ultimate Fighter Finale-Barboza vs Ferguson Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The action spills over from the microphone into the Octagon later tonight (Sat., Oct. 7, 2017) at UFC 216 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, as lightweight standouts Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee battle it out for interim 155-pound title rights.

Ferguson and Lee are in this position because current UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor has been preoccupied with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. since knocking out Eddie Alvarez last year to claim the 155-pound crown. With McGregor’s absence both “El Cucuy” and “Motown Phenom” have risen to the top to fight for the interim strap this evening in Las Vegas.

In order to determine who has the edge and where they have it, we take a closer look at the keys to victory for both Ferguson and Lee.

Tony Ferguson

1. Create space...

Say what you will about Ferguson’s awkward fighting style, the lightweight veteran can really mix it up on the feet. Blessed with one of the best athletic bases in the division, “El Cucuy” can create offense in a variety of ways. From spinning techniques to impeccable distance control, Ferguson is able to dictate spacing with the best of them.

Against an explosive wrestler like Lee it’s going to be even more important for Ferguson to find his range early, give himself enough time to react to any incoming takedown attempts, and limit Lee’s ability to score offense. Once he figures out Lee’s tendencies on the feet Ferguson should really start to find his openings.

2. Elbows in bunches...

There will come a time in this fight when Ferguson finds his back along the cage. Ferguson’s distance control on the feet is very good, but Lee is too powerful and too explosive to keep off for the duration of 25 minutes.

Once Ferguson is chest-to-chest with the smaller, yet stockier, Lee, he needs to make “Motown Phenom” pay for his entry inside. The best available weapon for Ferguson is his elbows, as the 33-year-old is able to push off with an arm and quickly snap back with slicing strikes.

Of course, Ferguson could always rely on his elbows even if Lee is standing feet away from him. “El Cucuy” has nasty elbows from all angles, inside and out, so he must get them off at all costs.

Kevin Lee

1. Establish an inside presence...

While Lee has worked his behind off at the Mayweather Boxing Club to improve his striking capabilities, the 25-year-old will always be at his best when he can close the distance and leverage his wrestling against a less experienced fighter. There’s a reason why Lee has scored at least one takedown in each of his nine UFC victories.

While Ferguson is the most experienced opponent that “Motown Phenom” has ever faced, Lee should still be able to dictate moments in the fight when he can explode inside, tie the veteran up, and work his clinch game, eventually leading to a takedown. Ferguson is very crafty in the clinch with submission attempts of all shapes and sizes, but Lee’s positioning down low should allow him to drag “El Cucuy” to the canvas.

From there, Lee can control the pace of action, take an early lead on the scorecards, and force Ferguson to implement his defensive gameplan.

2. Pace aggression...

It seems trite, but Lee is going to have to manage his aggression at UFC 216 if he wants to give himself the best chance to overthrow Ferguson. We’ve heard this before when young fighters are making the jump up to the big show and need to check their emotions before cashing in on their utmost potential.

Lee will be in that ship this evening when he competes against his steepest test to date. In addition to the step up in competition, “Motown Phenom” will have to remain patient and calculated in his approach. Ferguson has done a great job at getting underneath Lee’s skin so the young title challenger must put that behind him and fight with precision and technicality, not disdain.

Prediction: Ferguson via third-round TKO will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 216 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FX at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

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