UFC 216 - The Main Card Breakdown and Analysis

Date: Saturday 7th October

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, US

Venue: T-Mobile Arena 

Tony Ferguson vs Kevin Lee

These two arrogant, brash and incredibly talented lightweights grace the main event with another UFC interim belt on the line. This because the notorious Conor McGregor who currently holds the belt, has not-so discreetly been occupied in another sport with his return to the octagon to be determined.

Both men are riding lengthy win streaks to earn this interim title fight. Ferguson has won his last nine fights which is an incredible feat in the modern era of the UFC and as fellow top contender Khabib Nurmagomedov could not make weight for their fight, Ferguson is left desperate for an opponent to set up a shot at McGregor. Step up Kevin Lee who along with his own five-fight winning streak, his mouth has earned him a fight for the belt and official number one contender status.

Lee is very marketable and has looked impressive in his last five fights which has made him a worthy replacement for Nurmagomedov. The fight that guided him on the path to Ferguson was his last outing against Michael Chiesa. A lot of bad blood and bold statements from Lee amped up the fight and he went on to finish him via a rear-naked choke and will most likely be one of very few men who will ever take Chiesa’s back and choke him. If Lee needed any more confidence, this win entitled him to call out and exchange numerous heated words with Ferguson.

So it is clear Lee is full to the brim with confidence as very few fighters wish to call out ‘El Cucuy’. This is because Ferguson is in the form of his life and has evolved into a fighter with minimal, if any, weaknesses to his game. He has always had an impermeable will and an absurd gas tank but his unorthodox striking and grappling becomes more finely tuned in every fight, which not only makes him dangerous in every area but extremely unpredictable and hard to finish.

So what will Lee’s game plan be for Ferguson? Lee has decent stand-up skills but his strengths undoubtedly lie in his wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu; he is a wizard on the mat but so is Ferguson. Ferguson equals Lee’s eight submission wins and possesses a devastating D’Arce choke which is becoming almost as reliable as Ronda Rousey’s armbar. The grappling fans will hope this fight goes to the floor to witness two masterminds in action.

Both fighters are incredible athletes with phenomenal skillsets and will input a rapid pace for as long as the fight lasts. Ferguson may edge the striking battle with his unconventional approach but Lee’s explosive power and wrestling may enable him to take the fight to the ground, although Ferguson is just as tricky on the mat. Wherever the fight may go, they both have a chip on their shoulder and it promises to be one hell of a fight.   

See below for a statistical breakdown. The key stat highlighted is their reach. Although they are nearly identical, Ferguson usually has the advantage over his lightweight opponents standing at 5’11” so his unconventional style will be crucial to regaining his stand up advantage.

Ferguson v Lee.jpg

Demetrious Johnson vs Ray Borg

Demetrious Johnson’s chance of breaking the record for the most UFC title defences was put on hold at UFC 215 due to Ray Borg falling ill just days before the event. Fortunately, the UFC have scheduled a quick turnaround for this title fight and fans will be able to witness the spectacle as the co-main event at UFC 216.

If you were playing a computer game, trying to create the perfect flyweight, it would resemble Demetrious Johnson. Mighty Mouse has evolved into arguably the most complete Mixed Martial Artist of all time and performs as if he was manufactured in a lab, with flawless technique and speed that his opponents simply have no answer for.

Since he won the flyweight championship back in 2012, 10 victims have succumbed to the virtuoso performer, which equals the most title defences in UFC history, sharing the mantle with Anderson Silva. A win over Ray Borg at UFC 216, then, will give Johnson the record outright.

Borg, however, has recovered from illness to spoil the party and snap Johnson’s streak, carrying genuine confidence of pulling off the upset. Although the division is shallow, he has swum up to the top of the pile of contenders after a couple of impressive decision wins over Louis Smolka and Jussier Formiga, showcasing bullish wrestling which he feels will be his route to victory.

His wrestling will be his closest ally in defeating Johnson and he must mix grappling with strikes to unsettle the champ in the scramble and he will have to start strongly. Mighty Mouse not only dictates his fights but he beats opponents at their own game, whether it’s submitting Jiu-Jitsu champions, out-grappling Olympic wrestlers or out-striking the best hitters in the division. It’s what makes him the pound-for-pound best fighter right now so Borg will have to be even more aggressive than usual to create openings and leverage his power.

Unfortunately for Borg, Johnson has never been more motivated with the UFC record in sight. Borg certainly has the ability to cause an upset but will have to put on a career best performance. Win or lose for Borg, he will leave the cage a better fighter and at the age of 24 will surely be back to challenge for the title again. For Johnson, if he earns that record, let’s hope he takes superfights to give the fans what they want and potentially cement his legacy as one of the best fighters of all time.

See below for a statistical breakdown. The key stats highlighted is their record. Borg has a great record and is vastly experienced for his age. Johnson however, has more fights and more wins over the very best of the division which is a huge advantage.

DJ v Borg.jpg

Fabrício Werdum vs Derrick Lewis

A big heavyweight clash sets up the main events as former champion Fabrício Werdum takes on Derrick Lewis, with both fighters experiencing rocky form going into this bout.

After earning the title after submitting Cain Velasquez, Werdum got knocked out by Stipe Miocic in his first title defence and bounced back with an impressive win over Travis Browne but narrowly lost a decision to Alistair Overeem in his most recent fight. Lewis’ tremendous six-fight win streak was snapped by Mark Hunt in his last fight so they are both hoping to bounce back with a win and get back on track for another title challenge.

The motivation of ‘The Black Beast’ is in question after he announced a shock retirement after his loss to Hunt. A persistent back injury certainly played its part in the decision but nevertheless it was a huge surprise considering that it was his first loss in seven fights. However, fortunately for fans, this fight was announced a couple months later. It seems a complete rest is exactly what the active bruiser needed to feel the urge to get back in the cage.

This is just as well because Werdum will be his hardest challenge to date. Werdum is one of the most accomplished heavyweights around. He is a multiple time World Jiu-Jitsu champion and a former Strikeforce and UFC champion with a plethora of wins over legends of the sport. Reaching the twilight of his career, he looks as if he is enjoying his fights, displaying new techniques and surprisingly looked revitalised in his last fight after suffering a devastating knockout. At the age of 40, though, he is competing with father time as well as a lethal knockout artist.

Lewis will be hunting Werdum’s chin and will want nothing to do with his grappling. It will be no surprise to see Werdum call upon his Muay Thai skills and attempt to chop the big man down with leg kicks and knees but that will be a huge risk as ‘The Black Beast’ only needs one opportunity to connect with the skull and end a fight. Any damage to the Brazilian could force him to take the fight to the ground which will be done with ease as he is also a black belt in Judo and that could be curtains for Lewis.

See below for a statistical breakdown. The key stats here are the takedown and submission stats, highlighting the mismatch in ground skills.

Werdum v Lewis.jpg

Beneil Dariush vs Evan Dunham

The main card kicks off with a lightweight bout after the UFC veteran called out Beneil Dariush. The Iranian has become accustomed to fellow fighters calling him out and has admitted it only motivates him in preparation for the fight.

Dariush is very experienced himself with 11 UFC fights (8-3) but is coming off a devastating knockout loss to Edson Barboza. He was looking excellent until he dived in for one takedown too many and was met with a thunderous knee to the dome. In contrast, Dunham is coming off four straight wins - all coming via a unanimous decision - and is confident of adding Dariush to his victim sheet. 

This will be an intense match-up; both are great grapplers who really force the pressure for the duration of the fight. Dariush is the superior striker and is far more technical with a black belt in Muay Thai but Dunham’s striking has improved and can’t be overlooked. He does not have the power of Dariush, however his output is relentless which sets up his takedowns.

This promises to be an evenly-matched contest fought at a frenetic pace. We expect both men to press forward and apply their own pressure, with Dariush relying on his technical ability and Dunham relying on his toughness.

See below for a statistical breakdown. The key stat highlighted is the ‘significant strikes landed per minute’ which represent very high averages. In particular Dunham, who boasts the most ‘total strikes landed’ (1489) of all time in the lightweight division.

Dariush v Dunham.jpg