Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson (25-7; 15-5 in the UFC) is set to make his first return back to the welterweight division after winning The Ultimate Fighter in 2011.
His opponent, Jingliang “The Leech” Li (19-7; 11-5 in the UFC), currently ranked 14th in the welterweight division, is looking to secure a win against the future HOF Ferguson and re-begin his climb to top 10 status.
Jingliang is a -300 favorite over the future HOF’er, Tony Ferguson.
Tony Ferguson was, at one time, one of the most feared fighters on the UFC roster. This was the case given he won 12 straight fights, one of which was for the interim lightweight championship. Moreover, during his impressive dominance in the UFC, Ferguson put forth performances that showcased well-rounded violence with an underlying note of elite durability in his own regard. Having a combination of inflicting severe damage while possessing the ability to wear damage oddly well signifies his fan affinity accompanied by him earning his nickname, “El Cucuay” – The Boogeyman.
While Ferguson was an elite fighter and quite frankly, one of my personal favorites from an entertainment standpoint, age and damage have caught up to him. For starters, he is currently on a 4-fight losing streak and has been TKO/KO’d in 2 of those 4 fights – prior to these losses, Ferguson was never KO’d in his professional fight career. Beyond this alone, he has looked a step behind the elite competitors faced. While this may be able to be expected, particularly when knowing the elite competitors of the lightweight division are the elite of the elite that the UFC has, it does signify that Ferguson is not the Ferguson that so many fans perceive him to be, as such, when analyzing his future fights, the elite 12-fight winner needs to be partially removed from the analysis and more weight needs to be placed on what has been seen of recent note.
Somewhat interestingly, while Ferguson is no longer his elite self, he still seeks to fight the exact style that made him beloved by so many. This style is putting on a pace and pressure on the feet that weaponizes his cardio, and then, opens up opportunities to land razor-sharp elbows from both distance and close range. Often, when a fighter seeks to put on a pressure forward pace from the hop, they need to wear damage early to get in close and begin the cardio depletion of their respective opponent. As one can clearly forecast, when a fighter’s age begins to climb, the style of wearing punches early to find success later in the fight is a dangerous strategy to employ.
And, for Ferguson, this dangerous strategy has proved to be catastrophic, as evidenced by him wearing a worldwide trending up-kick KO by Michael Chandler in his last fight. While Ferguson is as seasoned of a professional as you can get, suffering such a severe loss in his last fight does beg the question if he will deviate away from his traditional style to fight a bit safer. The benefit of doing so is extending his durability throughout the duration of the fight, but the consequence may be a lack of ability to weaponize his elite cardio, which, in turn, may mitigate his ability to land effective and damaging strikes that are rooted in precision over power.
Throwing with razor-sharp precision contrary to all-out power may be seen for Ferguson, but, is far from how Jinglang chooses to fight. Instead, Jingliang elects to blend a traditional wrestle-boxing style with that simply loving to stay in the pocket and exchange leather. For context, a wrestle-boxer is one that primarily seeks to wrestle their way to a victory, but, understands that punches on the feet will assist in securing a takedown. Continually, a fighter that employs this style often has the ability to swing with haymaking blows on the feet because an overhand seamlessly leads to a takedown, and, if they overextend where the opponent shoots, they are completely comfortable creating, and winning, a scramble. While the categorical name, “wrestle-boxer”, may not be commonly stated in the community, the breakdown of this self-identified brand of fighter is seen throughout MMA, and the fighters who employ it at the highest levels are often quite successful.
Jingliang employs this style by throwing massive overhand rights into a takedown attempt, and his threatening power parlayed with underrated athleticism – seen within grappling – makes it quite successful for him. But, the reason why Jingliang has had inconsistent performances at times in his tenured UFC career is that he often foregoes wrestling given he has such an affinity for fighting. Having a joint problematic affinity for fighting in the pocket is shared between him and Ferguson, making for a highly entertaining matchup. And, even if the fight turns into a grappling affair, the stark difference in skill between Jingliang being strong in an offensive position contrary to him being somewhat poor on his back makes for a highly entertaining situation if a scramble ensues. Ultimately, if Jingliang can keep himself off his back, him being closer to his prime accompanied with having the power and size advantage should allow him to fight as comfortably of a fight as one can do against the always unpredictable Ferguson.
Every ounce of my being wants to believe Ferguson has something left in the tank to beat legitimate ranked fighters, whether it be in the lightweight or welterweight division. But, as I stated earlier in the analysis, it is unwise to remember what Ferguson was in the past when forecasting the future, as he is far more of what he has shown in his last 4 fights contrary to what was seen in his 12-fight win streak. Given I believe Ferguson is close to done – I don’t want to say he is – parlayed with knowing Jingliang is a legitimate ranked welterweight fighter, I am backing Jingliang in this fight. Ultimately, I expect Jingliang to crack Ferguson coming in early in the fight, and if the overhand doesn’t put Tony down, then I expect Jingliang to stuff a few last-ditch takedown attempts, to then, eventually land that fight-ending blow.
Bet: Jingliang by KO