LightweightsTony Ferguson (20-3) vs. Landon Vannata (8-0)
THE MATCHUP: Ferguson is the funkiest fighter in the UFC, and I mean that in the kindest way possible. In wrestling, “funk” denotes a sort of style which uses unorthodox movements to use opponents’ momentum against them. Rather than stuffing takedowns with a sprawl, for example, a funky wrestler might turn and roll with the shot in an attempt to come out on top. Rather than shooting for a double-leg, a funky fighter might roll for a leg lock and use it to sweep. Ferguson does all of these things and more, and couples his wrestling with superb submission grappling.
Ferguson’s striking is becoming funkier over time, as well, particularly as he looks to apply more pressure to his opponents. Once a fairly basic but effective boxer, Ferguson has over time added thudding low kicks, stance switches, slicing elbows and plenty of spins for good measure -- all of which must be defended in addition to his varied and unorthodox takedowns. Ferguson is no defensive genius, nor is he a walking target, and the unpredictability of his offense leaves all but the best strikers completely flummoxed. Even Edson Barboza, just one fight prior to his stellar win over Anthony Pettis, could only hold off Ferguson for one round before the mental and physical fatigue began to set in.
So far this analysis has been all about Ferguson -- and for good reason; this is a showcase fight for one of the division’s most exciting contenders. Michael Chiesa was originally scheduled to fight “El Cucuy” but withdrew with an injury just two weeks out from the event, leaving featherweight prospect Vannata with a tall order on his hands.
Vannata is actually a very promising fighter. Training out of the Jackson-Wink MMA camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, “Lando” is a wrestler who has recently discovered a talent for vicious knockouts. Not unlike Jon Jones before him, Vannata uses a long style of fighting, incorporating all trademark Jackson-Wink oblique kicks, side kicks and more. Though he is still somewhat hittable, he moves well and possesses a keen sense of distance. With only four years of pro MMA experience under his belt, Vannata has room to improve and plenty of time in which to do it.
THE ODDS: Ferguson (-665), Vannata (+515)
THE PICK: Despite all of Vannata’s promise, he is still an inexperienced featherweight stepping up on short notice to fight one of the most dangerous lightweights in the world. Ferguson will have the full camp, the frame and the frenetic fighting style to overwhelm Vannata, whose best shot at victory is a Hail Mary punch -- against a fighter who has never been knocked out in 23 pro fights. If Ferguson does not finish Vannata, it would be a surprise. The pick is Ferguson by first-round TKO.
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