MMA Review: #616: UFC 216: Ferguson vs. Lee

-Blame Conor McGregor and his excursion to fight Floyd Mayweather for this show, as realistically, Tony Ferguson should’ve been fighting him for the full Lightweight title, but you know, money fights and all of that bullshit. So we ended up with ANOTHER Interim title with Ferguson fighting the surging contender Kevin Lee. Good fight and all but not Ferguson/McGregor! The UFC at least managed to give us another title fight – the cancelled Flyweight title match from UFC 215 between Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg.

UFC 216: Ferguson vs. Lee

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Show begins with Dana White paying tribute to Las Vegas following the shooting incident a week prior to the event, and then some of the victims get brought into the Octagon before Everlast plays America the Beautiful, pretty classy gesture from the UFC. Hard to believe Everlast was the dude who sang Jump Around too but this isn’t the place for that discussion!

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier.

Lightweight Fight: Beneil Dariush vs Evan Dunham

Interesting opener right here as Dunham had been on a quiet hot streak, winning four in a row, and this was his chance to break back into the top ten where he’d last been in 2011 (!). Dariush was coming off his loss to Edson Barboza, but was still clearly a dangerous contender after winning 7 of 8 fights before that. As a longtime Dunham fan I was hoping to see him pull it out, but the smart pick was Dariush.

Round One begins and Dunham circles on the outside before they trade a few punches. Dariush begins to back him towards the fence, but he eats a few decent shots from Dunham who then shoots. Dariush avoids it pretty easily though and shrugs him off. Long left hand connects for Dunham but Dariush continues to walk him down and he lands with a glancing uppercut. Big left hand lands for Dariush to counter a left from Dunham. They tie up and Dunham forces Dariush into the fence, but Dariush spins it around and lands two VICIOUS ELBOWS that put Dunham down! He dives on a leg, but Dariush spins to take the back and forces him down, where he begins to drop heavy punches with one hook in. Dunham rolls onto his back and manages to get guard, but he eats some more elbows. Big shots land for Dariush and Dunham’s in trouble. Huge punches continue to land for Dariush and then he settles into half-guard. Dunham gets to his knees, but takes a pair of heavy knees to the body. Somehow he manages to force Dariush down to his knees, but the Iranian proves the better scrambler and he gets on top and continues to mash Dunham with punches. Kneebar attempt from Dunham fails too and Dariush drops into half-guard and bounces his head with some elbows. Dunham ends up turtled up and takes another elbow, but somehow he pops up to his feet. Holy shit Dunham is tough. Round ends on the feet and Dariush actually looks tired. 10-8 round for him though for sure.

Round Two and they wildly exchange from the off with both men getting tagged. Good low kick lands for Dariush as he pushes forward but Dunham comes back with a winging left hand. Flying knee to the body from Dariush but Dunham catches him and dumps him onto his back in guard. Dariush almost immediately looks for an oma plata from the rubber guard, but Dunham looks pretty calm and he manages to use the position to practically get into side mount. Instead he stands free, and Dariush looks for a takedown of his own, but he can’t get it and Dunham gets a rear waistlock instead. Couple of decent knees land for Dariush inside but Dunham remains on him, landing some punches of his own. They break off and Dariush uncorks a beautiful leg kick off a combo. Another one follows but Dunham still seems fresher and connects on a sweeping left hook. Single leg attempt from Dunham is stuffed, but Evan lands a shot on his way out. Big swing misses for Dariush and they clinch, but they quickly break off. Dariush looks gassed here. He still lands a really nice leg kick, but Dunham clinches and works some dirty boxing to end the round. Close one to call; Dariush probably got the better strikes with the low kicks, but Dunham was the busier man so I’d go 10-9 Dunham somehow.

Round Three and Dunham counters a low kick with a left hand and then slaps him with a pretty clean head kick. Dunham looks more aggressive now and he’s pushing forward and little more. Decent combination from Dariush but Dunham cracks him on the counter with a left hook. Big combination follows and Dunham is landing much more in this round. Combo answers for Dariush so Dunham shoots on a double leg and drives him into the fence. Dirty boxing again from Dunham and this has to be tiring for Dariush. He breaks off, but he looks busted up now too. Good combo lands for Dunham as they trade off pretty openly. Leg kick fires back for Dariush. Stiff jab follows for Dunham. Takedown attempt by Dunham is stuffed and Dariush breaks off, but not before eating some body shots against the fence. Both men continue to swing and land some big shots, and they’re both bleeding pretty badly now. Nice left hand counter off a low kick lands for Dunham. He continues to pressure Dariush and land big shots and the crowd are AMPED for Dunham now as he screams at Dariush to bring it on. Dunham continues to swarm him with wild punches, and they trade to the buzzer. Hell of a round, hell of a fight in fact. I’d go 10-9 Dunham for a 28-28 draw I think but it could go either way.

Judges have it 29-28 Dariush, 28-28 and 28-28 for a majority draw. Crowd boo but it was probably the right call – Dariush basically blew his wad in the first round trying to finish an incredibly tough opponent in Dunham, and Dunham’s sheer toughness and heart allowed him to come back in the second and particularly the third to avoid the loss. Dunham remains one of the most exciting fighters to watch in MMA and Dariush more than held his end of the bargain up so this was pretty great.

Women’s Flyweight Fight: Mara Romero Borella vs Kalindra Faria

Curious choice for a main card fight here as both women were debuting in a weight class that hadn’t really been fully introduced yet, but to be fair it was a late replacement fight for Paige VanZant vs. Jessica Eye so I guess UFC didn’t want to bump any of the prelims off FX. Most people had the more experienced Faria as the favourite but as I’d never heard of or seen either woman I honestly didn’t have a clue. Nice to have a non-Alessio Sakara Italian fighter in the UFC in the form of Borella, though.

Fight begins and they throw some feeler strikes before Borella hits a takedown into half-guard. She triangles the leg and looks like she might be setting up for an arm triangle, but Faria scrambles and looks for full guard. Borella takes the opportunity to slide into full mount though and keeps a lot of pressure on the Brazilian. She works some solid punches to the body and continues to smother her, and Faria looks a bit stuck. Nice right hand lands for Borella as she postures up, and Faria gives her back to avoid the punches. Rear naked choke follows and Faria has to tap out there.

Pretty flawless performance from Borella who took the opportunity she’d been given by the UFC and grabbed it with both hands. No idea how far she can go in the division given I know so little about it, but this was a super-good performance – like an old Gracie infomercial type thing from the early 90’s even – and considering Faria’s credentials it was really impressive. Totally one-sided fight but I have no problem with squashes when they’re this quick.

Heavyweight Fight: Fabricio Werdum vs Walt Harris

Initially this would’ve seen Werdum taking on Derrick Lewis in a battle of top ten contenders, but Lewis pulled out on the day of the event with a back injury, and so Harris – who’d been scheduled to fight Mark Godbeer on the prelims – stepped up to take the fight. Massive opportunity for Harris but there was no way he was ever going to beat Werdum, sorry.

First round gets underway and somehow the crowd are into this – either they buy into Harris as a threat or I guess they just respect his balls for taking such a horrible fight? Harris throws out some feints but Werdum instantly goes for a single leg after missing a head kick. Easy takedown follows and Harris is in trouble already. Werdum moves into half-guard and then slices into mount with zero effort. Harris decides to give his back, but Werdum doesn’t even bother to go for the choke and instead just slides off into an armbar for the tapout.

That was even more of a squash than the previous match, wow. Harris was totally overmatched on the ground and everyone knew it, and I guess Werdum just figured it’d be smarter to get rid of the guy rather than taking any risks, and yeah, that’s what he did. Nothing fight but fair play to Harris for taking the fight and allowing Werdum to stay on the card. Sick armbar too.

UFC World Flyweight Title: Demetrious Johnson vs Ray Borg

Initially pegged for UFC 215, this was a bit of a controversial fight as the UFC had apparently wanted Johnson to defend against TJ Dillashaw (before he was signed to fight Cody Garbrandt for the Bantamweight title) but Mighty Mouse didn’t believe TJ could make 125lbs and so chose to fight Borg instead to attempt to break Anderson Silva’s record of ten title defences. Borg of course….missed weight and had to withdraw from the fight, leaving everyone involved with a bit of egg on their face. Thankfully he managed it here and so the fight was on. Smart pick was obviously Mighty Mouse, with Borg having, well, a puncher’s chance-ish?

Round One and the crowd are at least into DJ as a big star, strangely enough. Seems like the days of them going silent for his fights (like at the classic UFC 178) are long gone. Series of low kicks open for Johnson and he shows a ton of movement, clearly trying to avoid Borg attempting a takedown. Straight right lands for Johnson. Big body kick follows for the champ after he avoids a combination. Body kick causes Borg to turn and Johnson grabs a rear waistlock and drags him down, taking the back. Good scramble from Borg allows him to his feet, and he chases forward but can’t land. Another body kick lands for Johnson and Borg shoots on a single leg, but Mighty Mouse just dummies him with a spin and pops up to his feet. Borg keeps hold of the leg, and the crowd are now chanting for Mighty Mouse. Another spin allows DJ to take Borg’s back, and he connects on some punches to the head. Borg winds up on his back in half-guard, and Johnson drops some punches and elbows while keeping him grounded. Johnson begins to set up for a kimura, but Borg defends it well. He can’t seem to get out at all though and Johnson uses a weak guillotine attempt to step into side mount. Kimura attempt follows and DJ elbows the head for good measure, then mounts, but Borg escapes to guard. Round ends with Johnson on top and I’m not sure that Borg even landed a strike. 10-8 for the champ.

Round Two and Borg rushes out and goes right into the clinch with a faked flying knee. Mighty Mouse works some knees to the body and then Borg snakes his arm around the head for a guillotine. DJ frees his head pretty easily though only for Borg to take him down. Johnson works to his feet but Borg manages to take his back and hops on with both hooks, but Johnson somehow just shrugs him right off and spins down into the guard. That was awesome. Into half-guard for DJ and he lands some really nasty punches to the head with Borg’s right arm trapped. Borg scrambles to avoid a possible kimura on the left arm, but gives his back and eats a pair of knees to the body. One hook in for Johnson and he lands some more hard knees to the body. Borg stands and manages to force him into the fence, but Johnson takes him down into side mount. A scramble from Borg sees him trapped in a front facelock, and then Mighty Mouse takes the back again. He’s constantly landing punches, too. Borg winds up in a seated position and eats some more strikes, and the round ends there. 10-9 Johnson, easily.

Round Three and Borg gets tagged by a right hand in the early seconds. Takedown attempt from the challenger but Johnson stuffs it despite being dragged across the cage by his leg, and then he spins out and forces Borg onto all fours. Johnson continues to defend the takedown and sprawls out, grabbing a front facelock for a possible choke, and then he simply forces Borg onto his back and takes side mount. Crucifix follows and Mighty Mouse lands some unanswered shots, but Borg scrambles into half-guard. The champ lands some knees to the body from there – really weird angle – and then drops some elbows too. Borg clings on from the bottom and then tries to fire off some upkicks, but they don’t land and Johnson winds up in the full guard. Mighty Mouse hops into half-guard from there and then into side mount, where he pins the left arm down to look for a kimura. Borg scrambles but winds up mounted instead, and then he gives his back. Both hooks in for the champ with a minute to go but a nice scramble frees Borg from the position. He remains trapped on his back underneath side mount though. Seconds to go and they come to their feet, and Johnson lands a right uppercut to the body. Guillotine attempt from Borg but he can’t get it and that’s the round. 10-9 Johnson in another whitewash round.

Round Four and Borg comes out swinging and goes for the takedown, showing a lot of heart, and this time he manages to slam Johnson to the ground. Mighty Mouse keeps scrambling from his back though and hops to his feet before forcing Borg down onto his back with some punches. Big elbows land for Johnson from half-guard and Borg is busted open. Mighty Mouse is making this look so easy. Borg scrambles and gets to his feet, but takes a huge knee to the body that clearly hurts him. He tries to fire back with some knees of his own, but gives his back standing and somehow Mighty Mouse lands a head kick from behind. That’s just ridiculous. Brutal takedown follows for the champion and he lands in side mount. Couple of short elbows land for Johnson, but Borg does well to escape to his feet with less than a minute to go. Another takedown plants him on his back though and he continues to abuse the challenger. Round ends with DJ on top again. 10-9 and there’s just no way Borg is going to win this.

Round Five and you can’t fault Borg’s heart as he comes out swinging, but finds himself dumped on his back pretty quickly and Johnson immediately takes side mount. Borg attempts to work to his feet but can’t do it despite getting half-guard. Short elbow lands perfectly for Mighty Mouse and he remains on top, landing knees to the body when Borg sits up. Borg works to his feet and tries a single leg of his own, but Johnson avoids and spins free. Clean double leg from Mighty Mouse and he puts Borg down again and immediately works to side mount. Full mount for Mighty Mouse now but Borg manages to scramble free. He takes another hard knee to the body though and then the champ takes his back. No hooks but Johnson remains in control. Borg manages to stand, but Mighty Mouse hits a BIG GERMAN SUPLEX RIGHT INTO AN ARMBAR!~! Crowd go APESHIT as Borg tries to fight it off, but it looks like his arm is going to snap and he has to tap out.

That was absolutely amazing. Not only was it one of the best UFC title defences of all time, as he totally whitewashed Borg to the point where the challenger basically had zero offense, but he also pulled out a finish that really should be impossible but somehow wasn’t. I mean, who the hell does a German suplex into an armbar of all things? That’s ridiculous. For me it’s now between DJ and GSP for the greatest of all time and they’re practically neck-and-neck. Just a one-sided thrashing in favour of Johnson, but it was entertaining due to the virtuoso nature of it. Fair play to Borg for trying but he got totally outclassed here.

UFC Interim Lightweight Title: Tony Ferguson vs Kevin Lee

So yeah, with Conor McGregor out fighting Floyd Mayweather and questions over whether he’d ever come back to the UFC period, it made sense for the company to make an Interim title, even if they’re totally overused these days. The fight that made sense was Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov, but they tried that back in March and Khabib couldn’t make weight, and so Lee – who’d taken out a pair of solid contenders in Francisco Trinaldo and Michael Chiesa in 2017 – stepped in. Despite Lee’s clearly improving skills and massive self-belief, I couldn’t see him dealing with Ferguson – who’d already taken out a better guy in my mind in RDA – and so I picked El Cucuy to win by knockout.

First round begins and Lee looks fucking AMPED while Ferguson’s chuckling. Ferguson comes out with some funky movement and taunts, before Lee rushes him and glances on a head kick. Nice combination lands for Lee but Ferguson walks right through it. Low kick takes Lee off his feet for a second but he pops back up. Ferguson’s movement makes him seriously hard to catch even though he keeps his chin pretty high. Rushing body kick lands for Ferguson and he dodges some punches but eats a jab. Right hand catches Ferguson off balance and knocks him down, but he pops back up. Lee comes forward aggressively, but walks into a sweeping left hand that stuns him and drops him for a second. They exchange some more strikes with both men landing, and then Lee gets a nice takedown. Ferguson scrambles almost into full mount, but Lee rolls and keeps top position despite being caught in a rubber guard. Oma plata attempt from Ferguson but Lee steps over to avoid it and then works into the guard. Ferguson tries an armbar, but Lee shrugs that off and moves into north/south, then back to side mount and finally full mount! Crowd sound horrified as Lee OPENS UP and destroys Ferguson with elbows and punches from the mount, but somehow Ferguson does enough to survive the onslaught and the buzzer pretty much saves him. Jesus. Punch glances for Lee after the buzzer to draw some boos, too. 10-9 Lee; could’ve been a 10-8 but Ferguson got some good offense in earlier in the round.

Second round and Ferguson opens with an overhand right. Head kick also glances for El Cucuy. Ferguson seems totally unfazed by the bad opening round, dancing around and throwing out strikes while Lee seems more focused. Both men land with jabs and then a right hand from Ferguson lands really flush. Body kick lands for Lee but he’s eating more jabs from Ferguson now. Takedown attempt from Lee fails. Ferguson’s beginning to take over with his striking now, flicking his jab out and dodging Lee’s shots too. Crowd are well into Ferguson. Lee’s looking tired and he continues to eat more jabs. Step-in elbow connects for Ferguson and clearly hurts Lee but he takes it pretty well. Big right hand connects for Lee but Ferguson shrugs it off. Lee’s nose looks bloody. A body kick lands for Lee too but Ferguson remains on the front foot. Takedown attempt from Lee is defended well by Ferguson and he connects on an elbow on the way out. Round ends with some more Ferguson stalking and striking. 10-9 Ferguson as he looked far more comfortable while Lee looked laboured.

Third round and Ferguson stalks forward and glances on a high kick. Takedown attempt from Lee and he elevates Tony and slams him down despite Ferguson grabbing the fence for a second. He lands in Ferguson’s full guard, where El Cucuy ties him up. Lee can’t get much done and Ferguson kicks him away and stands. Another takedown is unsuccessful and Lee’s looking out of steam for sure. Ferguson continues to walk him down with punches, and while Lee fires back, he looks like his shots have no pop. He manages to tackle Ferguson to the ground though, only to find himself stuck in an armbar. Somehow Lee steps over in a totally insane escape though and manages to avoid it! Triangle attempt is also avoided by Lee in some tremendous defense. Ferguson remains active from his back though and peppers his head with some shots, and a second attempt at the triangle looks tighter. Lee sits up and tries to posture free, but he leaves it a bit too late and Ferguson pulls the head down and LEE GOES OUT.

That’s ten in a row for Ferguson – the longest winning streak in UFC Lightweight history – and when you consider who he’s beaten (Tibau, Thomson, Barboza, Dos Anjos, etc) it becomes even more impressive. Basically they HAVE to somehow get Conor McGregor in to fight him because – fuck Nate Diaz – it’s the only fight that they’ve got right now outside of Khabib that’s really interesting for McGregor. I actually think Ferguson could beat him, but the key word there is COULD because he keeps his chin high and nobody hits like McGregor at the lighter weights. I just hope they can get the fight done in 2018 because it’s bullshit if Conor ends up fighting someone else. If he retires or goes into boxing full time then cool, but he shouldn’t be in that cage with anyone but Ferguson next.

As for this fight? Lee fought really well but clearly didn’t have the cardio or the offensive power to get past Ferguson, which made the difference in the end even after a brilliant first round for him. Ferguson is a MONSTER right now and it’s going to take something special to stop the guy. And the fact that he never has anything but exciting fights – this one was tremendous for the record – helps a ton too.

-Show ends with a highlight reel and we’re done.

Final Thoughts….

Can’t go wrong with this show really – the recent UFC PPVs prior to this had been mostly decision-fests but this was the total opposite, with a pair of nice squashes and then two super-exciting title fights to go along with the one fight to go the distance – Dunham/Dariush – which was fun anyway. Two thumbs up for UFC 216 then but I must say even if you don’t check out the whole show, you NEED to see the Johnson/Borg finish because it was maybe the best finish in MMA history. Seriously.

Best Fight: Ferguson vs. Lee
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: