The UFC heads south of the border this weekend, sending a pair of highly motivated lightweights to throw down in Mexico.
Former champion Rafael dos Anjos hasn’t been seen since losing his belt to Eddie Alvarez during International Fight Week this past summer, but he has a chance to throw his name right back into the thick of things Saturday night when he takes on streaking Tony Ferguson in the main event. “El Cucuy” hasn’t had a very productive 2016 due to injuries and fights falling through, but he’s still riding an eight-fight winning streak and has a chance to push himself to the forefront of the title scene with a win this weekend.
The third season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America comes to a conclusion Saturday night as well, with a fun battle between exciting young prospects Claudio Puelles and Martin Bravo, who vie for the TUF crown. With big names like Diego Sanchez, Ricardo Lamas, Charles Oliveira and Beniel Dariush all competing on the card, this is shaping up to be a fun night of scraps and a decent way to spend an autumn night.
The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 3 Finale, better known as UFC Fight Night 98, takes place Nov. 5 from Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City. The first preliminary bout kicks off at 6:30 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass. There will be three bouts on the UFC’s popular streaming service before the card switches over to Fox Sports 1 for the rest of the evening. Four more prelims can be found on FS1 for your viewing pleasure starting at 8 p.m. ET before the main card gets underway at 10 p.m. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Vince Carey break down the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Tony Ferguson has had a rough 2016. He’s had three fights against top lightweights scrapped and almost lost his winning streak when he faced off with late replacement Lando Vannata, an unranked UFC newcomer. Now, Ferguson is headlining UFC Fight Night 98 against former UFC lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos, whose 2016 hasn’t gone much better, with a scrapped fight against Conor McGregor and a title loss to Eddie Alvarez. Which fighter gets back on track in this headlining bout?
Huntemann: Where exactly are we getting the idea that Ferguson has had a “rough” 2016? Yes, he’s had big fights scrapped and probably missed out on some lucrative paydays. But guess what? He’s still won eight in a row. He’s still the clear-cut No. 1 contender in any division that doesn’t have McGregor lording over it. For all intents and purposes, his next fight — should he defeat dos Anjos, of course — will likely be a title fight that would give his paycheck a nice little boost. So, if that constitutes as a “rough” go of things for “El Cucuy,” then by all means, sign me up to be roughed up myself. Some guys should be so lucky.
Now dos Anjos, on the other hand? Yeah, that dude has seen better days. He missed out on a big payday with McGregor when he injured his foot prior to UFC 196 earlier this year. Then he was dethroned as champion rather emphatically by Alvarez.
You wouldn’t think that both guys are the same age (32), because Ferguson still looks so quick, fast and explosive. He looks like he’s still in his 20s. Both guys have faced the very best the UFC has to offer in the lighter weight classes, and both have looked dominant, at least until dos Anjos ran into Alvarez. Ferguson has grown as a fighter since he won season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter. He’s gotten better with each performance. I’m picking Ferguson to win this fight not so much because I want to go against dos Anjos, but because I’m extremely impressed by Ferguson. It’s a crime that “El Cucuy” hasn’t fought for a title yet.
I expect a fun, action-packed bout between Ferguson and dos Anjos, but I also don’t expect it to go the distance. Ferguson will finish his Brazilian foe and leave absolutely zero doubt that his next fight should be for the belt.
Carey: Yes, Ferguson hasn’t exactly had a “rough” 2016, but it does feel almost like it’s been a wasted year for the top contender. He’s had three fights with top-10 fighters get shut down for some reason or another, and while his war with Vannata was freaking awesome, it did more to raise Vannata’s stock than it did to boost “El Cucuy.” Still, 2016 can be salvaged for Ferguson if he can defeat the former champion here, and especially if he does it as impressively as my fellow panelist thinks he will.
The year is going to be a disappointment for dos Anjos no matter what he does in this fight, but it almost feels like the former champion is already being written off after one bad performance. While RDA was beaten handily by Alvarez, his winning streak prior to that fight was one of the most impressive in the sport and featured Nate Diaz, Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone. That’s some seriously high-level competition right there, and it’s even more impressive than it looks, because dos Anjos dominated every one of those guys.
Ferguson has been awesome during his current winning streak and he’s looked impressive enough that I’m really tempted to make it a clean sweep with the pick here. However, I just can’t do it. Eight wins in a row inside the Octagon is tough, but I’d argue the last four wins that dos Anjos has on his resume all outshine any name on Ferguson’s list. Ferguson has been viewed as a title contender for over a year now, but he hasn’t been fighting top-level competition outside of the one bout with Edson Barboza. Ferguson still lacks a signature win. There’s a good chance that he can get it this weekend, but dos Anjos has proven himself time and time again and I’m not ready to write him off. RDA by decision.
With very little fanfare, The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 3 finals are upon us. The pairing of lightweight finalists has undefeated Martin Bravo squaring off with once-defeated Claudio Puelles. Are either of these fighters future UFC contenders, or will they simply continue the recent trend of TUF also-rans?
Carey: I don’t think I’m going to be confident picking anyone coming off of TUF to be a future contender at this point, given the show’s recent history of so-so fighters winning the crown, but I do think this fight features two young guys with a lot of upside. Both Bravo and Puelles are legitimately interesting prospects, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise if the winner follows in the footsteps of Yair Rodriguez and ends up making a solid name for himself after the show.
Outside of the show, Bravo has been a finishing machine, taking out eight of his 10 opponents by stoppage and essentially owning his opposition in his native Mexico. Strangely, his finishing success hasn’t translated to the Octagon in his TUF tournament bouts. He’s gone the distance in two of his wins on the show. Bravo also went the distance in his most high-profile bout outside of the show when he won his Jungle Fight debut in Brazil over a year ago, and it makes you wonder how much his competition on the Mexican regional scene has contributed to his impressive resume.
Puelles may be the one in this fight who’s already suffered a defeat, but he also may have the higher potential of the two. The Peruvian has looked excellent on the show. At just 20 years old, he has plenty of time to improve. He’ll be fighting at 155 pounds this weekend, and he’ll be the taller and bigger fighter against a guy who’s fought as low as bantamweight.
I need to see a lot more out of both of these guys before I call either of them a future contender, but I do like the potential in both men and can easily see both of them eventually winning a fight or two inside the Octagon.
Huntemann: I’m going to defer to my colleague on this one. In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t watch TUF Latin America. I don’t watch any version of TUF anymore, actually. Because, as you’ll see in my latest column (cheap plug alert!), I believe the show has outlived its usefulness and the UFC should put it on ice indefinitely. I honestly have no knowledge of Bravo and Puelles. None. Zip. Zero.
However, I do have enough knowledge to know that the odds of them becoming contenders in the UFC are not in their favor. The recent string of TUF winners has been underwhelming, to say the least. You never like to write guys off before they really get a chance to prove themselves, but I’m also not holding my breath while waiting for either of these guys to set the world on fire. But hey, prove me wrong, guys!
Former Bellator contender Marcin Held has made his way to the Octagon, and ready to welcome him is one of The Ultimate Fighter’s original homegrown stars, Diego Sanchez. Can Held march into the Octagon and experience some of the same success as a few of his fellow Bellator alum have done, or is Sanchez going to use a wild Mexican crowd to propel him to victory?
Huntemann: This fight is an awesome contrast in styles. Held has 12 submission victories under his belt, and I remember watching him fight Will Brooks for the Bellator lightweight title last year. He had Brooks in trouble several times with submission attempts. Held is definitely not a guy you want to go to the mat with. Fortunately, I don’t think that will be a problem for Sanchez.
Sanchez’s name is basically synonymous with bloody brawls. I’m sure we all still remember his fights with Gilbert Melendez, Ross Pearson and Martin Kampmann fondly. If Sanchez goads Held into a slugfest, then I like Sanchez’s chances of getting the win. However, Held is a very disciplined, cerebral fighter, so I wouldn’t count on much blood spillage in this fight.
I think Sanchez can still do enough to earn a decision win. But if Held prevails? Then he still has a murderer’s row of UFC lightweight contenders to deal with. Yet, Held is the perfect type of fighter to fly under the radar and maneuver his way into title contention. It just won’t be easy.
Since Sanchez has never been tapped in his MMA career, it almost feels like this is the UFC veteran’s fight to lose. But are we sure Sanchez is going to be able to keep up his go-for-broke, swing-for-the-fences style at this point in his career?
So much of Sanchez’s game over the last few years has been straight-up tenacity. While at one point in his career he was one of the more talented fighters in the game, Sanchez has had to resort to just being tougher and more durable than his opponents, basically using his output to overwhelm his opponents and the judges.
The problem with that strategy is that it gets you hit. A lot. And the once granite chin of Sanchez has shown some cracks lately, most notably during his last fight, a lopsided knockout loss to Joe Lauzon at UFC 200 that represented the first knockout or TKO defeat of his career.
I’m not sitting here trying to convince anyone that Sanchez can’t take a shot anymore, but even if he doesn’t get put away with punches, the potential to get rocked and dropped against a submission expert like Held is scary. I’m sticking with Sanchez in this one, but I’m definitely going to be keeping a close eye on how he reacts when getting hit in the face this weekend.
The UFC’s featherweight division is in a state of uncertainty. Its champion, Conor McGregor, shows no sign of defending his belt anytime soon. The interim champion, José Aldo, doesn’t seem to want to fight at all anymore. So, does the winner of the fight between Ricardo Lamas and Charles Oliveira get any closer to a title shot?
Carey: Doesn’t any win technically put you at least a little closer to a title shot? In that sense, yeah, the winner of this fight is going to be in a slightly better position than they were before the night began. However, Oliveira and Lamas are both coming off of momentum-crushing losses that’s to be expected.
I get the point we’re trying to make with this question, but I can’t sit here and act like McGregor fighting Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 instead of Aldo — or Aldo not fighting at all — really matters when talking about this fight. Yes, Lamas and Oliveira are both sitting in the 145-pound top 10, but they’ve both also gone 2-2 in their last few fights and stand behind at least Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis and Frankie Edgar in the featherweight pecking order.
Who leaves Mexico with the W? My gut says Lamas, who has steadily improved his stand-up over the years to become one of the more well-rounded fighters in the division. Oliveira is always going to be a handful on the mat, but “The Bully” isn’t going to let him get it there. Furthermore, I have doubts about Oliveira’s ability to stand and trade with Lamas. If the fight hits the canvas, it could get interesting. If it doesn’t, then that should mean a lopsided win for Lamas.
Huntemann: My associate makes several good points. Technically, a win by either Lamas or Oliveira gets them closer to a title shot. However, a title shot seems to elude everyone in the featherweight division at the moment, given the situations of McGregor and Aldo.
Lamas and Oliveira are definitely behind Holloway and probably Pettis in the pecking order. I’m not sure if I would rank Edgar ahead of them, though, since he had his shot at the interim strap at UFC 200 and lost. I’m also disappointed Pettis didn’t call out McGregor after defeating Oliveira earlier this year. Tell me you wouldn’t be excited for a McGregor/Pettis fight.
Speaking of good fights, this is a much better match-up for Lamas than his planned bout with B.J. Penn that was scrapped and contributed to the overall cancellation of a scheduled UFC card in the Philippines. I really had no desire to see Penn be embarrassed yet again and further tarnish his legacy.
I like Oliveira in this fight. He is just such a rangy fighter with his length and reach advantage, and he is so dangerous in his submissions. Oliveira’s own submission loss to Pettis earlier this year will serve as a learning experience for him. Lamas is one of those guys at featherweight that you don’t immediately think of when you list contenders, but he’s as tough as they come. However, Oliveira’s best days are still ahead of him, and he prevails here.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: Any time Sam Alvey’s name appears on a fight card, you’re in for an entertaining performance.
“Smilin’” Sam is on a two-fight winning streak, both wins by finish, and his interview after his last victory is one that everybody should really check out.
Alvey’s opponent, Alex Nicholson, is coming off a first-round knockout victory of his own, but he also seems to be engaging in a war of words on Twitter at the moment with fellow “Spartan” Elias Theodorou. I guess they’re trying to figure who started using the nickname first. But I digress.
Nicholson’s fight with Alvey is the featured fight on the UFC Fight Pass preliminary card, so there’s some incentive to tune in early and check out what should be a good fight.
Carey: I’m also a big fan of watching Alvey perform, but this lineup isn’t going to get me juiced until the main card kicks off with the Octagon debut of strawweight prospect Alexa Grasso.
If you’ve been following Invicta for the last few years, then you’ve seen Grasso grow into one of the all-female organization’s biggest stars. Now that the 23-year-old prospect has made her way over to the Octagon, it’s time to see if she can deliver on her hype.
At 8-0, and in a division where a good win or two can leave you in the thick of the title picture, the Mexican strawweight should have a lot of eyes on her, and rightfully so, as she takes on veteran Heather Jo Clark.
Pair this card with…
Carey: I’m just going to come out and say it. This card is basically going to serve as a UFC appetizer for a lot of fight fans. We’re one week away from UFC 205 and one of the most ridiculous lineups from top to bottom that we’ve ever seen. As good as some of the fights on this card are, it’s going to be hard not to watch this and think ahead to the future, especially since we’ll probably see roughly 1,000 advertisements for the show next weekend. So use these fights to pump yourself up for the historic event that follows a week later.
Huntemann: Cheap Mexican food and cheap Mexican beer. I know, I know. I’m being awfully stereotypical. Sue me. But this is a fun card on paper that’s full of fighters from our neighbors to the south. Why not just sit back, relax and watch some fun fights with some delicious food and delicious beer? Really, who doesn’t like cheap Mexican food and cheap Mexican beer?
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
LW: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Tony Ferguson
TUF Latin America 3 LW Finals: Claudio Puelles vs. Martin Bravo
LW: Diego Sanchez vs. Marcin Held
FW: Ricardo Lamas vs. Charles Oliveira
LW: Beneil Dariush vs. Rashid Magomedov
Women’s StrawW: Alexa Grasso vs. Heather Jo Clark
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
BW: Erik Perez vs. Felipe Arantes
WW: Erick Montaño vs. Max Griffin
BW: Enrique Briones vs. Douglas Andrade
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
MW: Sam Alvey vs. Alex Nicholson
LW: Polo Reyes vs. Jason Novelli
FW: Enrique Barzola vs. Chris Avila
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