Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight warriors Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson will square off this weekend (Sat., May 7, 2022) at UFC 274 inside Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
In three UFC fights, Chandler has quickly established himself as an elite contender and one of the most pound-for-pound entertaining men on the roster. However, he’s only picked up a single victory in that span, so the pressure is on for Chandler to bounce back if he’s to remain a relevant title threat rather than merely a fun Lightweight. Meanwhile, the situation is far more dire for “El Cucuy.” Fans and analysts alike knew that someday, Ferguson’s chaotic and all-offense style would eventually result in the wheels coming off, and it really seems like that’s happened. After going undefeated for eight years, Ferguson has lost three in a row, seldom winning a round in the process.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Dan Hooker (UFC 257), Benson Henderson (Bellator 243, Bellator 165), Brent Primus (Bellator 212), Patricky Freire (Bellator 157), Eddie Alvarez (Bellator 58)
Key Losses: Charles Oliveira (UFC 262), Justin Gaethje (UFC 268), Patricio Freire (Bellator 221), Will Brooks (Bellator 120, Bellator 131)
Keys to Victory: Chandler is one of the most explosive men on the roster. The man fights with his springs loaded, ready to positively fly into a ferocious right hand or powerful double-leg takedown.
Echoing what I wrote about Donald Cerrone earlier in the week, “El Cucuy” was never that hard to hit in his prime. He worked through that issue by being inhumanly tough and fighting fire with fire, but now that he’s lost a step in reaction time and durability, Ferguson is far more vulnerable to getting blitzed early.
Chandler’s right hand could fell an elephant, so the fight may be that simple as lining up a big swing in the opening two minutes.
If not, Ferguson’s wrestling has looked pretty awful lately. Chandler may love his reputation of being a brawler inside the Octagon, but if the knockout doesn’t materialize and things get hairy on the feet, a bit of lay-and-pray could offer a valuable opportunity to rest and reset.
Key Wins: Kevin Lee (UFC 216), Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Fight Night 98), Anthony Pettis (UFC 229), Edson Barboza (TUF 22 Finale), Josh Thomson (UFC Fight Night 71), Donald Cerrone (UFC 238)
Key Losses: Justin Gaethje (UFC 249), Charles Oliveira (UFC 256), Beneil Dariush (UFC 262), Michael Johnson (UFC on FOX 3)
Keys to Victory: I’ll be fully honest and say that I don’t know where Ferguson’s current skills lie. At his best, Ferguson was capable of carving up talented strikers, shucking off takedowns and wrangling necks at the slightest opportunity. He’s shown none of that in his previous three fights, but he has been fighting the absolute best in the world.
Perhaps Chandler’s own embrace of chaos will give Ferguson room to show what’s left in the tank?
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that a bit of old school “El Cucuy” remains intact. In that case, the front snap kick and low calf kick would be such key tools, and they’re some of Ferguson’s best weapons already. Chandler’s stance leaves his lead calf vulnerable, and as the shorter man moving forward, a well-timed kick to the gut can take a whole lot of power of those swings.
The end goal for Ferguson should be to exhaust Chandler. He has to do attritional damage, deny takedowns and force Chandler into a bloody scrap. If Chandler slows down a bit and is forced to take his foot off the gas, perhaps vintage Ferguson violence can make an appearance.
The stakes are considerable for the Lightweight division.
Victory puts Michael Chandler right back in the mix. Regardless of who wins the title on Saturday night, a rematch with Chandler is an easy enough sell. Likely, Islam Makhachev is ahead of him, but that still only leaves Chandler another victory away from a potential second chance at UFC gold. Conversely, an upset loss here entirely removes him from the title picture, though there are still plenty of fun fights to make.
As for Ferguson, his back is quite simply to the wall. If he loses a fourth straight fight at 38 years of age, will UFC continue to sign his paychecks? Probably not. The way Ferguson’s UFC career has crumbled in the last two years has been decidedly sad, but this bout could be Ferguson’s path to redemption. Even if the title is no longer a feasible goal, stopping Chandler would help remind fight fans of Ferguson’s greatness.
At UFC 274, Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson will scrap. Which man remains standing when the dust settles?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 274 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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