Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight veterans Tony Ferguson and Li Jingliang will collide this weekend (Sat., Sept. 10, 2022) at UFC 279 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jingliang has alternated wins and losses in his last four fights, but there’s still been real improvement from the Chinese athlete. “The Leech” has developed into a major knockout threat, picking up performance bonuses in each of his last four victories. He’s become far more dangerous, and flashes of greater potential still show. Meanwhile, I don’t know what to make of this fight for “El Cucuy.” Ferguson did show signs of life for the first time in years in the first round of his bout versus Michael Chandler, it’s true, but the end result was brutal. Is it really expect Ferguson to rebound up a weight class against a heavy hitter? It certainly reads like a tall task.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
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 Chandler (UFC 274)
Keys to Victory: At his height, Ferguson was the king of mixed martial arts (MMA) chaos. Ferguson can push a terrifying pace and sap his opponent’s will to fight with constant snap kicks and elbows. He’s lost a step, but that doesn’t mean Ferguson is without any weapons.
Ferguson cannot let himself be bullied. With the exception of his Justin Gaethje loss, all of Ferguson’s recent defeats have come when “El Cucuy” is put on his backfoot. Dariush, Oliveira, Chandler — they all walked to Ferguson, took him down, and beat him up.
Ferguson has to flip the script. He got a bit of confidence back in the Chandler performance even in defeat, and perhaps that’s key to scoring a different outcome. If he’s going to take out “The Leech,” Ferguson has to step to the Chinese athlete and throw down. Ferguson needs to be moving forward, throwing stabbing teeps, chopping legs, etc. — he has to be the one attacking.
That’s “El Cucuy” at his best.
Key Wins: Santiago Ponzinibbio (UFC Fight Island 7), Elizeu Zaleski (UFC Fight Night 157), Muslim Salikhov (UFC on ABC 3), David Zawada (UFC Fight Night 141), Dhiego Lima (UFC Fight Night 66)
Key Losses: Khamzat Chimaev (UFC 267), Neil Magny (UFC 248), Jake Matthews (UFC 221), Keita Nakamura (UFC Fight Night 75), Nordine Taleb (UFC Fight Night 54)
Keys to Victory: Jingliang has completely revamped his game. Back at the start of his career, Jingliang bullied opponents with his takedowns and strength, but now, “The Leech” hunts opponents with heavy swings and crushing kicks.
At this stage of the game, Ferguson’s weaknesses are well-known. As he’s declined physically, Ferguson doesn’t take shots as well. He’s easier to outwrestle, and just as importantly, Ferguson has struggled defending and answering low kicks.
Jingliang can wrestle. He loves kicking calves. The man hits hard. He has all the tools to make 2022 Ferguson’s life very unpleasant based on recent results. Still, if I were Jingliang’s coach, I would put more emphasis on the stand up. Ferguson is tricky on the canvas, and wrestling him could still be a pretty fatiguing task.
It would probably be better to off-balance “El Cucuy” with some low kicks early then crack him upside the head.
Is this Tony Ferguson’s last stand?
The fact that Ferguson is still a big enough star to accept a short-notice match up and co-main event a pay-per-view (PPV) is a good sign. Perhaps that earns him enough good will to keep his spot on the roster with another defeat. Is that even the goal now though? Ferguson has talked about retiring if his performances aren’t up to par, so the career consequences here may be more about how the fight goes compared to the end result.
As for “The Leech,” he’s been in the position of fringe contender for a long time. At 34 years of age and 15 years into his professional career, Jingliang has likely done his best work already. At best, there’s certainly no time to lose! A stunning knockout here may not raise Jingliang up the Welterweight ladder, but it still could help him secure a highly ranked foe next time out.
At UFC 279, Li Jingliang and Tony Ferguson will face off in the co-main event. Which fighter will have his hand raised?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 279 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on 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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