Written by: Remi Se
It feels like forever since a UFC Pay Per View to get excited about. UFC 214 closed July and was followed by a PPV that lost half of its card in UFC 215. While 216 might not live up to the cards that will close 2017, it should serve as the most entertaining offering in some time. The card is full of veteran, ranked fighters and includes a champion chasing Anderson Silva’s title defense record in Demetrius Johnson. Then there’s the main event, an interim title bout between two of the most consistent lightweights in the division and they bring with them personalities every bit as loud as the champion himself Conor McGregor. UFC 216 is looking like a card that could generate a lot of momentum heading into the megacards that will close the year.
Beneil Dariush vs Evan Dunham:
I have a sneaking suspicion that Beneil Dariush versus Evan Dunham could run away with the Fight of the Night honors before any of the bigger names take the octagon. The men have fought a combined 40 times and are known to set a fast pace that utilizes the threat of grappling, at which both men are great, to set up quality striking, at which both men have shown growth. The similarities between the two are clear. They are high level Bazilian Jiu Jistu practitioners who use the threat of clinches and takedowns to open up striking opportunities. The two men rely on constant pressure, high volume striking and the ability to force a dogfight when all else fails. With both men so adept in the clinch and on the mat yet completely happy to trade strikes, this is likely to be a war where neither man wants to give much ground.
Dunham’s recent run of victories in which has outstruck Rick Glenn and Joe Lauzon in back to back performances. His four fight win streak has been defined by his ability to get into the pocket and throw flurries of four or five punches at a time. He often finishes a flurry by stepping inside and either pushing his opponent off balance or reaching for a quick clinch, but as soon as opponents’ get comfortable standing he level changes to score takedowns. Dariush is typically more comfortable striking at distance which allows him to mix kicks in and generate torque on his punches but in his loss to Edson Barboza, he did a great job of working from inside kicking range and mixing clinches for his own dirty boxing. Dariush has excellent takedown defense and utilized a powerful uppercut in his bouts with Barboza and Vick that timed right could catch Dunham as he shoots in for a takedown. Dunham is likely best served waiting for Beneil to overcommit on a punch before shooting. I’m taking Dariush on this fight, having seen him stand toe to toe with Edson Barboza for nearly two rounds before getting caught. Dunham looks like a fighter whose figured his striking out, but this is a step up for him compared to recent opponents.
Fabricio Werdum vs Derrick Lewis:
While Stipe Miocic lords over the Heavyweight division, the road to a title shot seems fairly short. Fabricio Werdum and Derrick Lewis are both coming off of losses, but a win for either man would put them near the top of the division. Werdum is in especially precarious position having lost 2 of his last 3 fights although the losses have come to the aforementioned champion and always elite Alistair Overeem. Werdum is a reckless striker, sometimes rushing forward and getting himself in trouble. But he is arguably the most dangerous heavyweight on the ground in the UFC, even boasting a submission over the legend Fedor Emiliananko. Derrick Lewis aka the Black Beast has brute strength that is incomparable, once tossing Roy Nelson off of top position to get back on his feet and eventually win a decision over the tough grappler.
Werdum is supposed to have the edge here. If he can take Lewis down, it’s his world and he’ll even invite opponents into his guard because of his confidence there. The problem is that he does some truly inexplicable things on the feet. From flying kicks to start rounds against Overeem to rushing face first into a Miocic counter; Werdum puts himself in more danger than necessary. That said, he’s a talented striker when he’s more patient and works in space. The two things going for Lewis are that even Roy Nelson couldn’t keep him down and that one reckless mistake is typically all it takes. Lewis will be the underdog going into this fight, but I’m anticipating a knock out for the Black Beast.
Demetrius Johnson vs Ray Borg:
I gave a fairly extensive breakdown on Ray Borg vs Demetrius Johnson for the UFC 215 preview available here:
But to give a brief recap, while many are looking at this fight as a total mismatch, I think there’s a good chance for it to be really exciting. Borg loves to grind out fights and scramble in a similar fashion to Tim Elliot, who put on one of the most entertaining title challenges against Mighty Mouse yet. The perpetual motion of both fighters means you can’t blink. While I have Demetrius Johnson breaking the title defense record, I’m hopeful that doubters will get a pleasant surprise from this match.
Tony Ferguson vs Kevin Lee:
Many fans have taken to calling the interim title bout between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee the real lightweight championship bout. While Conor McGregor claimed the belt and switched to boxing, Tony Ferguson has won 9 straight bouts and Kevin Lee has won 5 straight plus 9 of his last 10 matches. These have been two of the most consistent performers in arguably the UFC’s deepest division. Beating a top ten Lightweight is like beating a top 5 level opponent in some other divisions and these guys beat everybody they face. Not only that, both men have become finishers, stringing submission victories together while being formidable strikers. Ferguson has a unique stand-up style that combines stance switching, awkward elbows and pressure that is unrivaled. Lee has incredible reach, a growing arsenal of boxing along with some kicks and he has incredible strength to score takedowns to set up his impeccable ground game.
Ferguson is the more polished striker in this bout, but it’s rare that he gives up reach which he will to Lee. When all else fails for Ferguson or even just to keep opponents off balance, he is comfortable taking things down and working a truly impressive combination of ground and pound with submission techniques. His use of Imanari Rolls to force Edson Barboza into ground battles is one of the more memorable moments in recent history. He won’t want to give Lee opportunities on the ground however. Lee’s one of the most physically imposing fighters in the division and he has run off three straight submissions that culminated with a stoppage of Michael Chiesa whose ground game is excellent in its own right. While that Chiesa fight was only briefly on the feet however, Chiesa was able to land a couple of nice punches showing that Lee’s stand-up is still a work in progress. El Cucuy is the higher ranked and more well-rounded fighter, it’s hard to envision a fighter keeping up with the pace he sets as he’s even outworked former champion Rafael Dos Anjos in route to a decision victory. But Kevin Lee has something few fighters have, he’s on a run in which any fight that touches the mat feels like it is moments away from a choke. As much as there is a gap in the rankings between the two, this feels very much like a toss-up because Ferguson is more prone to putting himself into dangerous situations. Ferguson also might have more issues getting off some of the standing elbows that he loves considering Lee is a takedown threat inside and has absurd reach to make forays into the pocket rare. I have to go with the man who hasn’t lost in over five years, Tony Ferguson but a victory for the Motown Phenom wouldn’t shock me as Lee has every tool to become an elite fighter for years to come.