UFC 209: Glory to El Cucuy
UFC 209 offers a lot on paper in terms of great MMA. In the co-main event is one of the greatest lightweight match-ups in recent memory. For the *ahem*, interim, lightweight title “El Cucuy” Tony Ferguson will face Khabib Nurmagomedov in a five-round fight. This is a supremely tough match-up. But for this weekend, I’m going all in on my pick of “El Cucuy” Tony Ferguson, and this week I’m going to explain why.
I think for a long time Tony Ferguson has not really gotten the level of attention and respect he deserves. The man has carved a path through the most competitive, stacked and blood-thirsty division in all of MMA. I believe Ferguson deserves more credit for that. To go 9-0 and 11-1 at lightweight in the UFC is pretty insane. Those wins include finishes over the likes of Edson Barboza, Lando Vannata, Gleison Tibau, and Abel Trujillo. In his last fight out, he dominated former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos and pulled out an impressive victory. Ferguson has proven time and time again that he is legit.
I think some of the lack of recognition for Ferguson probably goes back to his time on The Ultimate Fighter, and his antics on the house; such as the time he had a little too much to drink and started mocking teammate Charlie Rader, “Where’s your kid at?!” (Learn more about that situation HERE) The reality show wasn’t the most flattering look at Ferguson. And sometimes, it’s been hard to get excited about the prospects who have come out of TUF who haven’t panned out. But Ferguson has been consistently getting results. Not to mention, he appears to be getting better and even more confident with each of his fights.
I don’t have a problem picking Ferguson against Khabib Nurmagomedov because he’s constantly come out and performed and exceeded my expectations on a very consistent basis. Even in a fight where Ferguson was matched up against a controlling, grinding wrestler like Danny Castillo, he managed to attack very well from off of his back and still managed to walk away with the fight with a win.
The other major reason is that there are some specific holes in Khabib Nurmagomedov’s game that I believe Ferguson has the skill set to exploit. Not to discredit Nurmagomedov. He’s also an elite lightweight opponent. He’s undefeated in MMA, and he’s gone 8-0 in the UFC against some tough competition. Not to mention, he came back from a layoff from the sport that lasted two years and almost caused him to retire from the sport despite still being in his 20s. He came back last year, and his original first opponent back was supposed to be Tony Ferguson. Ferguson was forced to withdraw from the fight due to an illness, and Nurmagomedov instead faced UFC newcomer Darrell Horcher, who Nurmagomedov demolished. It essentially turned out to be a tuneup fight for Nurmagomedov, but he did well. However, it was in his next fight, where Michael Johnson showed some very definite weaknesses in Nurmagomedov’s standup game. Johnson did ultimately lose that fight, but while the fight was standing up, he was able to out-box Nurmagomedov and hurt him on the feet. Ferguson has some intense knockout power, but he’s also very well rounded. He’s good at mixing up his striking and his wrestling. However, in his last fight, he out-classed Rafael dos Anjos especially in the standup department.
Another fight where Nurmagomedov’s weaknesses were apparent was his fight with Gleison Tibau at UFC 148 way back in 2012. Now granted, that fight was several years ago. Nurmagomedov has made improvements in multiple areas, but that fight is proof that Nurmagomedov is far from unbeatable. That was really a fight where Nurmagomedov won a gift decision that should’ve gone to Tibau. What took Nurmagomedov off his game in that fight? Takedown defense. Most of Nurmagomedov’s shots and takedowns were outright stuffed, defended or blocked by Tibau. Nurmagomedov had trouble making adjustments. His striking looked sloppy, and he was just winging punches. Nurmagomedov may have “won” the decision, but watching the fight live, he did not look like the victor at all. Ferguson has a level of grappling that I believe can deal with Nurmagomedov’s grappling and MMA wrestling. He will have a height and reach advantage. If he’s ready for Nurmagomedov’s takedowns, working dirty in the clinch, and making Khabib pay in the boxing department; I believe with every fiber of my being that Ferguson has this fight covered.
Regardless, I’m hoping and expecting an excellent lightweight contest on Saturday night. At the risk of looking like an idiot and eating a big plate of crow with a side of ketchup, I’m staking all my predictions on Ferguson beating Nurmagomedov.
Jeffrey Harris is 411mania’s resident Jack of All Trades and has covered MMA for the site since 2008. You can shoot him an e-mail at [email protected] or hit him up on Facebook. He also co-hosts the 411 Ground & Pound Radio podcast along with Robert Winfree. You can listen to the latest episode of the podcast in the player below.