10 reasons to watch UFC 216, including Demetrious Johnson’s 1,841-day title reign

if(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};
jwplayer(‘jwplayer_0gWNY6Yp_FLu19iir_div’).setup(
{“playlist”:”http://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/0gWNY6Yp.json”,”ph”:2}
);

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC

The UFC is back in its hometown of Las Vegas for the first time in three months for UFC 216. Two title fights sit atop Saturday’s event.

In the headlining bout, highly ranked competitors Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee meet to determine the interim lightweight champion – and hopefully earn a shot at current lightweight kingpin Conor McGregor. No one’s sure what’s next on McGregor’s dance card, but you can bet the winner of this fight will have some choice words for the man who has yet to defend the title he won in November.

In the co-main event, the only flyweight champion in UFC history, Demetrious Johnson, looks to make his record-breaking 11th consecutive UFC title defense. Ray Borg is the man who hopes to put an end to Johnson’s 1,841-day title reign.

UFC 216 takes at T-Mobile Arena. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FX and UFC Fight Pass.

Here are 10 reasons to watch the event.

1. Settle those differences

Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee

The sniping between Ferguson and Lee started in June, and it hasn’t let up since. Shortly after Lee submitted Michael Chiesa via rear-naked choke, Ferguson, working as a commentator for FS1 that night, asked Lee a question he didn’t appreciate. That launched a verbal back-and-forth between the two.

That feud culminates in the main event of UFC 216 with the victor leaving Las Vegas as the interim 155-pound champion.

if(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};
jwplayer(‘jwplayer_z1lcCO6V_RbnemIYZ_div’).setup(
{“playlist”:”http://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/z1lcCO6V.json”,”ph”:2}
);

Ferguson, the No. 3 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA lightweight rankings, has been itching for a title fight for a while. His nine-fight winning streak, the longest in UFC lightweight history, and five consecutive fight-night bonuses say he’s earned his shot.

Lee (16-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC), ranked No. 8, wasn’t the UFC’s first choice to face Ferguson, but his five-fight winning streak, two fight-night bonuses and beef with Ferguson (22-3 MMA, 12-1 UFC) earned him his shot.

if(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};
jwplayer(‘jwplayer_2qjNTh9J_RbnemIYZ_div’).setup(
{“playlist”:”http://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/2qjNTh9J.json”,”ph”:2}
);

2. Find the flaw

Johnson captured the flyweight title on Sept. 12, 2012. One month earlier, Borg competed in his first professional MMA fight. That means Borg (11-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) has effectively spent his entire career training and preparing to beat one man: Johnson (26-2-1 MMA, 14-1-1 UFC).

You would think the ability to focus on a single opponent for several years would give Johnson’s challengers an advantage. It hasn’t. The most recent contender who turned pro around the time Johnson became champion was Henry Cejudo, who had more than three years to prepare for Johnson. When the two met in April 2016, the champ claimed a TKO victory in the middle of the second round.

if(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};
jwplayer(‘jwplayer_viIDfP7Q_RbnemIYZ_div’).setup(
{“playlist”:”http://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/viIDfP7Q.json”,”ph”:2}
);

Borg, the No. 5-ranked flyweight, has had five years to try to find one flaw he can exploit, one way to succeed where previous title contenders failed. If he does it, he can keep Johnson from taking sole possession of the UFC’s most prestigious record.

if(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};
jwplayer(‘jwplayer_OzyoPf1J_RbnemIYZ_div’).setup(
{“playlist”:”http://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/OzyoPf1J.json”,”ph”:2}
);

3. Keep off the ground

After briefly contemplating retirement following his June loss to Mark Hunt, Derrick Lewis returns to the octagon at UFC 216. Lewis, ranked No. 12 in the heavyweight division, faces No. 3-ranked Fabricio Werdum, who enters this contest on the heels of a July loss to Alistair Overeem.

This fight could put Lewis (18-5 MMA, 9-3 UFC) to the test. Werdum (21-7-1 MMA, 9-4 UFC) is arguably the most dangerous ground fighter in the division. If Lewis, a heavy-handed striker, drops Werdum and follows him to the mat, he could find himself in deep waters. What makes things even trickier is Werdum sometimes exaggerates strikes and falls to the mat to get his opponent inside his guard.

if(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};
jwplayer(‘jwplayer_clgXLIIR_RbnemIYZ_div’).setup(
{“playlist”:”http://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/clgXLIIR.json”,”ph”:2}
);

With champion Stipe Moicic without a fight due to a contract impasse, a dominant win could put the victor in the mix for a title shot when Miocic returns.

if(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};
jwplayer(‘jwplayer_a6tKIBSM_RbnemIYZ_div’).setup(
{“playlist”:”http://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/a6tKIBSM.json”,”ph”:2}
);

4. Looking for breakthrough

In September, Evan Dunham won his fourth straight fight. The last time he had a UFC winning streak that long was more than seven years ago, when he was victorious in his first four bouts with the promotion.

Dunham faces No. 1-ranked lightweight Beneil Dariush, an opponent Dunham expressed interest in fighting when he spoke to MMAjunkie Radio in June.

if(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};
jwplayer(‘jwplayer_sFg8Gb8g_RbnemIYZ_div’).setup(
{“playlist”:”http://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/sFg8Gb8g.json”,”ph”:2}
);

Dunham, known for his ground game, has developed his striking over the past few years. During his current winning streak, he’s has out-landed his opponents in significant strikes 449-163.

If Dunham (18-6 MMA, 11-6 UFC) scores a win against Dariush (14-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC), who enters this fight following a loss to contender Edson Barboza, he’s likely to break into the rankings post-UFC 216.

if(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};
jwplayer(‘jwplayer_ZHpWwL8Z_RbnemIYZ_div’).setup(
{“playlist”:”http://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/ZHpWwL8Z.json”,”ph”:2}
);

5. Second act

Tom Duquesnoy

Tom Duquesnoy didn’t disappoint in his UFC debut. The former two-division BAMMA champion knocked out Patrick Williams early in the second round with a crisp elbow. The bantamweight victory extended Duquesnoy’s unbeaten streak to 12.

After the fight, Duquesnoy said, “Step by step, I will do everything to get the belt as soon as possible.”

Duquesnoy (15-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) jumps to featherweight for his second UFC fight. His opponent, Cody Stamann, also won his most recent fight. Stamann (15-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) defeated Terrion Ware by decision – his eighth straight.

This could be a fun striking battle. Both fighters landed more than six significant strikes per minute in their UFC debuts.

6. Former champ looks for break

Will Brooks

When former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks signed with the UFC, he was ranked No. 11 in the division and on an eight-fight winning streak. After his hand was raised in his promotional debut, Brooks climbed to No. 10. Today, he is unranked.

The reason for the former champ’s precipitous slide? He lost his two most recent fights by stoppage. Brooks was more than a 3-1 favorite in each of those contests – to Alex Oliveira and Charles Oliveira.

When he signed with the UFC, Brooks told MMAjunkie, “I believe I have everything it takes to be a UFC lightweight champion.”

Brooks (18-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) hasn’t looked especially competitive in either of his UFC losses. He doesn’t get a break at UFC 216, where he faces the gritty and always competitive Nik Lentz (27-8-2 MMA, 11-5-1 UFC), who lost his most recent fight via decision.

If Brooks has any hopes of working his way back into the mix, he needs a definitive win here.

7. Collecting more bonuses than wins

Lando Vannata

Lando Vannata has been better at collecting fans and fight-night bonuses than he’s been at winning fights during his three-fight UFC run. The Jackson-Wink MMA fighter is 1-2 with the promotion, but he’s earned a fight-night bonus check in each of those contests.

Vannata is one of the more exciting fighters to join the UFC in the last year or so. He employs an aggressive and flashy striking style that finds him landing as many power strikes as he absorbs. Vannata expends a lot of energy, and as his fights progress, he tends to fade. That allows his opponents to find their target with more accuracy over time.

Vannata (9-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) faces Bobby Green in this lightweight bout. Green (23-8 MMA, 4-3 UFC) was on a roll for a few years, running up eight straight wins between September 2011 and July 2014. But he’s fought only three times since then, and he’s lost each of those matchups.

8. Long wait comes to end

Poliana Botelho (photo by Anchell Fotografia)

The UFC signed Poliana Botelho in mid-2016. An injury prevented the former XFC flyweight champion from making her scheduled promotional debut at UFC 206.

In Botelho’s (5-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) first fight in more than two years, she faces Pearl Gonzalez (6-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC) in a strawweight scrap.

Botelho, a member of Nova Uniao, is a powerful striker. She isn’t particularly aggressive in the open, but when she traps her opponent against the cage, she unleashes wild combinations. All of Botelho’s wins have come by knockout. Her only loss is a five-round decision defeat to No. 13-ranked Viviane Pereira.

Cynthia Calvillo submitted Gonzalez in the third round of her UFC debut. The loss ended her six-fight winning streak.

9. A rising star with some baggage

Magomed Bibulatov

If you’re looking for a non-ranked flyweight to keep an eye on, Magomed Bibulatov might be your guy. In his UFC debut, the former WSOF flyweight champion showed an excellent array of striking techniques, good takedowns and a strong top game on his way to a dominant decision win over Jenel Lausa.

At UFC 216, Bibulatov (14-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) looks to move into the rankings at the expense of No. 11-ranked John Moraga (17-6 MMA, 6-5 UFC), who ended a three-fight losing skid with a decision win over Ashkan Mokhtarian in his most recent bout. The victory was the first since 2014 for the former title challenger.

Bibulatov does carry some baggage. In his UFC.com profile, he lists Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial leader of the Chechen Republic, as his “hero.” He also told “The Buffalo News” that he “supports Ramzan fully.”

10. Keep your distance

Thales Leites

You can look at Thales Leites’ most recent fight, a decision win over Sam Alvey, as safe or smart. Against the powerful counterstriker, Leites relied heavily on leg kicks. That strategy worked well. The former middleweight title contender landed almost 90 percent of his leg strikes, which allowed him to rack up points while avoiding Alvey’s counters.

No. 13-ranked Leites might be wise to employ a similar tactical approach against rankings honorable mention Brad Tavares, who is a bit more active than Leites on the feet. Another reason Leites (27-7 MMA, 12-6 UFC) might use his leg kicks is Tavares (13-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) has good takedown defense, which could negate Leites ground advantage. Tavares has wins in his two most recent fights.

For more on UFC 216, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: “https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets”, analyticsCallback: “galleryAnalytics”, fullscreenUrl: “http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/mCVxgLk25EVCFkrwbjhRq4/276228”, customAnalytics: true, title: “Demetrious Johnson”, feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == “undefined”) ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();
Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie