Tony Ferguson (12-2) has emerged as a very promising talent with devastating finishing skills. Thus far, throughout his three fights on the reality show and his two subsequent performances in UFC events, Ferguson has treated us to nothing but violent stoppages with an unruly striking arsenal. Justin Edwards was able to take him down in his opening match on the show, but Ferguson clipped Edwards with an up-kick from his back to register the first of many TKOs.
Ferguson would handle business with his precise boxing from that point forward, closing out Ryan McGillivray and Chuck O'Neil with brutal combinations to advance to the finale, where fellow finalist Ramsey Nijem crumbled under Ferguson's long and crisp punches. Having clenched the TUF crown as a welterweight, Ferguson dropped down to lightweight, where the advantages of his lanky stature became even more imperious. His power was authenticated when the venerable Aaron Riley couldn't continue past the first round due to a broken jaw in their UFC 135 clash.
Yves Edwards (41-17-1) made his Octagon debut in 2001 against Matt Serra at UFC 33. The last decade has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs and new fight teams and weight classes in just about every promotion imaginable, but Edwards has always competed against the elite and constantly reinvented himself to remain at the sport's pinnacle. He's the type of wily veteran who can never be discounted and has the mentality and tools to unhinge any lightweight. His agility, kickboxing and grappling are top shelf and he's accrued a wealth of experience to implement his strengths with extreme efficiency.
After the darkest stage of his career in 2005-2007, Edwards has recently mounted a sturdy turnaround by winning five of his last seven, marred only by a conspicuous decision to Mike Campbell in the Moosin promotion and a picture-perfect left hook delivered by Sam Stout at UFC 131. Stout interrupted Edwards' momentum from consecutive wins (John Gunderson, Cody McKenzie) after being reinstated to the UFC, but the Thugjitsu practitioner realigned his progress with a rousing TKO over Rafaello Oliveira on the UFC on Versus 6 card in his last outing.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Free Movement Phase
Ferguson has a few traits that allow him to set the tone with his hands and make his opponent react to his pace: his height (6'0"), excessive reach (76") and wrestling background. This typically keeps the fight exactly where Ferguson is strongest. Yves will have the choice of playing the stand up game with him or trying to drag him into a different phase of combat.
Striking-wise, Edwards has diverse kickboxing with incredible accuracy, timing, footwork and speed. He's strong defensively but his confidence to stay in the pocket and throw counters has gotten him in trouble lately.
Out of his almost sixty career showings, all four of Edwards' TKO losses have come in the last one-third of his tenure. So, even though I'd consider him the more polished striking technician, his dwindling chin resilience and lack of one-punch power make it awful risky to tackle Ferguson's boxing head on.
To put his physical advantages in perspective, Ferguson, a lightweight, has the same reach length as Nick Diaz, a spidery welterweight. In the first animation above, the depth and torsional snap of his punches are apparent and, to the left, Ferguson also fakes a level drop to keep Riley on his heels and back pedaling.
Keeping in mind how Ferguson's dictatorial length will make closing the distance a stiff challenge, we shouldn't overlook that he's yet to encounter a striker of Edwards' caliber. When committing to combinations and seeking a knockout, Ferguson, like almost every fighter, does leave a few pathways to his chin exposed as well.
To the right we see a nice example of how Edward's timing and accuracy could find one of those pathways. This is a basic right hook counter that sails over the top and stuns Oliveira, leaving him dazed enough for Edwards to pounce mercilessly.
To be fair, here's a scenario showing how critical Edwards' selection of strikes will be. The boxing he opens up with is solid, but when he closes the sequence with the right high kick, Oliveira is able to defend and lance a right hand through when Edwards is vulnerable.
I'm interested to see how Edwards attempts to manipulate the pace on the feet: as a patient counter striker picking and choosing his spots or by cranking up the aggression and leading attacks. While he may end up getting the better here, I'm leaning toward Ferguson for his reach and power by a slight margin.
Most of the clinch-work we've seen from Ferguson has been nasty dirty boxing from the single collar tie position.
The kid thrives on pressure from a distance and his constant stalking led to more punishment at close range with Riley's back on the fence. Ferguson's fixation on unrelenting offense is his best strength, but could also be his undoing if he's too reckless against a composed tactician like Edwards.
Yves is more of a finesse fighter, but his technique and experience gives him a strong clinch with good leverage from his base and use of underhooks.
Generally smacking of a Thai style, Edwards immediately looks to control the head and upper body to prevent takedowns, gather his balance and sting with short knees, punches and elbows.
Ferguson has been content to send missiles flying in the clinch and hasn't implemented his wrestling background very much, so I expect Yves to clinch to escape his grasp and skate free out into open space.
This category is designated to assess which fighter should have the better control over which phase of combat the fight will actualize in. When Ferguson does invoke his takedown prowess, it's like having an ace up his sleeve and a great complement to his striking voracity.
To the right, Ferguson shoots a defensive double leg to alleviate the pressure Nijem is applying. Having the ability to fall back on takedowns gives him a secondary option to exercise that's perfect for opponents who are planting their feet and going after him with strikes.
This typically means that Ferguson doesn't struggle with what the gif to the left depicts, which is Oliveira telegraphing a takedown from too far outside with absolutely no set up. In fact, the only takedowns we've seen Ferguson shoot have been when his opponent wades too deep while firing strikes so a simple level change and explosion has sufficed.
Edwards' footwork is imperative to his takedown defense, as evinced by the hard circle he cuts to his left to keep his hips out of reach. He whizzers Oliveira's right arm and quickly transitions to head control and starts attacking once he's stabilized.
I imagine Ferguson's size and wrestling background will put him in the driver's seat for where the fight takes place.
I wouldn't normally include scrambling as a standalone category, but think it deserves mention here. Edwards is one of the craftiest scramblers in the game who would enjoy a significant advantage over most relatively inexperienced wrestlers. However, as the slick forward roll to the right shows, Ferguson has unveiled innate creativity in scrambling situations.
Still, I see transitions like this as the perfect area for Yves to let his astounding experience shine through.
I'm not sure he can take Ferguson down, but if he can threaten with a submission in the clinch or counter a takedown by spinning to his back or initiating any kind of a scramble, Edwards could quickly turn the tide.
Being the more complete fighter who's persevered through virtually every situation of a top-level MMA fight, Edwards is deadly in transitions. He has a keen grasp of position and technique that creates opportunities to latch submissions in high paced scrambles and Ferguson's striking and size won't help him here.
While Ferguson should have the larger influence over the location of the contest, Edwards has incredible submission grappling and should wreak havoc if he can settle in on the ground in any position.
He has a litany of sweeps, escapes and submission attempts that I just don't think it's humanly possible for Ferguson to compete with at his existing level. If he puts Edwards on his back and makes sure to maintain good posture and not dive into Edwards' guard for any length of time, he should be able to win the shorter exchanges, but Edwards is easily the more proven beast on the ground.
I think the bundle of skills that Ferguson touts with his exceptional stature poses a tremendous obstacle. His boxing is sharp, powerful, long and relentless, and also backed by good head movement and the threat of takedowns. This leaves a wide range of things to account for from a defensive standpoint. I have a feeling that Edwards will be forced to duel standing and be left with finding an opening and doing damage.
I wouldn't rule that out by any means, especially if he tries to time Ferguson's side-to-side head movement with a roundhouse kick. Ferguson has a lot of momentum and could come in overconfident and over-aggressive. Yves is also the better pure grappler but I'm not sure he'll get the chance to show it. The question marks are how mature Ferguson will be in respecting the technical skill of Edwards' kickboxing, how good his chin is and how much he'll temper his raw aggression. Either way, even though it's his biggest test to date, I think this is Ferguson's fight to win.
My Prediction: Tony Ferguson by TKO
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com