+ 2x All-American wrestler
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt
+ 11 KO wins
+ 7 submission wins
+ 9 first-round finishes
+ Relentless pace and pressure
^ Well conditioned / consistent stalker
+ Dynamic striking assault
^ Shifts stance and variates timing
+/- Aggressive in exchanges
^ Counter availabilities
+ Solid wrestling ability
^ Superb hip, grip and lever awareness
+ Excellent from front-headlock
^ Chokes, transitions, back-takes
+ Active and attacking guard
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Collegiate wrestler (division 2)
+ 1 KO victories
+ 8 submission wins
+ 5 first-round finishes
+ Improved footwork and movement
+ Works well when coming forward
^ Hard kicks and solid punches
+ Strong inside of the clinch
^ Effectively chains from body-lock
+ Excellent offensive and reactive shots
^ Has taken down 10 /11 UFC opponents
+ Intelligent transitional grappler
^ Positionally aware / fights hands
+ Dangerous back-taker
^ Heavy hips and crushing chokes
Arguably the division’s No. 1 contender, Ferguson will finally get his shot at a belt after multiple failed attempts to sort things out with Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Standing in Ferguson’s way is Lee, one of the brighter standouts the weight class has to offer. Despite not yet reaching his prime, Lee feels he is right on track with destiny by fighting for a title at just 25.
Starting off on the feet, we have a battle between two strikers who are different in style, but do their best work coming forward.
Walking the line between forward-mover and voracious marauder, Ferguson can seldom be found taking a back step in his fights. Whether he is feinting or throwing, Ferguson consistently puts pressure on his opponents, looking to either slice-and-dice his was inside, or half-step his way into kill shots off of his accurate jab.
However, it is in these instances of advancement where Ferguson is most hittable, and or susceptible to being countered.
Despite not being known for his counter-striking game, Lee has quietly made improvements to his footwork, displaying an understanding of defensive and offensive angles, as his time spent working with Dewey Cooper and Mayweather’s gym is certainly showing.
With improved head movement typically accompanying upgraded footwork, Lee has also demonstrated much more discipline in rolling his head offline with his punches.
Still, the developing talent may not want to test his striking skills too much in this matchup. Even though Lee was able to stun Francisco Trinaldo standing (which is no easy feat), Ferguson has shown an uncanny ability to absorb punishment and haunt his opposition, living up to the moniker of “El Cucuy.”
Ridiculous durability aside, Ferguson does a deceptively good job of rolling with punches and coming back with heat of his own. Albeit a risky proposition, it is one that Ferguson gets positive returns on due to his persistence to stay poised and play the long game.
Regardless of how striking stanzas shakeout, I suspect that the grappling exchanges may be what decides this fight’s fate.
Inside the clinch, Ferguson is the fighter who offers more offense via his strikes and submission setups, but I believe that Lee may be the better wrestler in this space.
From his superb technique to his natural gifts of athleticism and reach, Lee has a knack for finding the hips of his opponents. Working particularly well from the body-lock, Lee does a good job of chaining off his takedown approaches.
That said, Lee will be facing a unique counter-wrestler who can also counter with submissions.
An enthusiast of the granby roll, Ferguson can counter the deepest of takedown attempts, as we have seen him hit these rolls in mid-air. For that reason, it will be interesting to watch how Lee’s takedown transitions playout with Ferguson’s creation of chaos in mind.
Typically rolling for a variety of leg-locks and entanglements, Ferguson has shown the ability to chain from position-to-position, even when hurt and under fire. Nevertheless, Ferguson could still find himself in the proverbial frying pan should he elect to look for submissions from here, especially considering that failed leg-locks often lead to back-takes – a specialty of Lee’s.
A phenomenal wrestler who seemingly embraced the submission arts early, Lee displays a preternatural ability to take the back. Fueled by slick transitions and heavy-hips, Lee arguably crushes as much as he attempts chokes, dominantly closing off airways in a way that reminds me of a vintage B.J. Penn.
If Ferguson loses his respect or sense for the position, he could find himself steadily going to sleep should he allow Lee onto his back.
Though that could be a real possibility for Lee, the problem – in my opinion – lies within the process that he will need to go through to get Ferguson to where he wants.
Whether Lee is shooting in for a double-leg or changing his level inside of clinch space, his head will inherently have to travel through a neighborhood Ferguson refers to as “snap-down city.”
With a “snap-down” being a wrestling term that refers to the pulling down of an opponent’s head to break their posture, Ferguson has seemingly made his money from this position, using it to transition to back-takes and chokes alike. Should Lee fail on his shots, we will likely see his submission defenses tested.
Under the tutelage of Robert Follis, I am sure that Lee’s defensive prep is on point as the two have proven to be an excellent pairing of coach and fighter. Still, we have seen Ferguson show the ability to hit both strikes and submissions that his opposition arguably knew was coming.
Not only does Ferguson seem to have the unshakeable confidence to help this effort, but he also has a style that I like to refer to as “presenting.”
Similar to the process of a good magician, the true magic happens when you can successfully stage an environment for your trick to work. This principle also exists in the poker arena, as the poker room is often won by the best presenters –– not necessarily the best poker players.
Whether he is presenting a false target or setting a high pace, Ferguson ultimately fights with a bigger purpose in mind. As we saw in his victory over Lando Vanatta, Ferguson used these principles to put himself in a position to finish a submission that Vanatta knew was coming.
Initially presenting the threat of a guillotine choke, Ferguson forced Vanatta to fight hands and defend, knowing it would inherently create enough space between the lats and triceps for his arm to slide through for his patented D’Arce choke.
The oddsmakers seem to agree with the potency of Ferguson’s pathways – opening him up as a moderate favorite over Lee.
As someone who has trained at Xtreme Couture for some time, matchups like these feel like a lose-lose scenario in regards to making a pick. With that in mind, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t rooting for Lee here.
However, as an analyst, I have to be unbiased. If Lee cannot successfully score takedowns and capitalize early, then I worry for his chances given that Ferguson is built to get stronger as the fight goes on. Despite forecasting championship gold in Lee’s future, the dynamic of this matchup makes it hard not to favor Ferguson, who I see posing problems if he achieves his preferred cooking temperature.
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