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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 216: Ferguson vs. Lee - Main card preview

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Get the inside scoop on the opening contests of UFC 216’s main card, including a pivotal heavyweight clash between former champion Fabricio Werdum and Derrick Lewis.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Lewis vs Browne Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The first three fights of UFC 216’s main card feature two outstanding contests and another that no one can figure out why the UFC stuck it on the main card. The heavyweight bout features a former champion clashing with one of the newest contenders in the division and the opener is a favorite to win the FOTN. The other contest? Well…two fighters who’ve never before fought in the UFC with minimal notice. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to substitute a contest from earlier in the card that people actually cared about for this one? People are shelling out good money for this card after all and I don’t see that contest adding any incentive for anyone to purchase the PPV. And I thought WME-IMG was desperate to rake in as much money as possible after paying an exorbitant price for the UFC…

The UFC 216 main card kicks off at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Fabricio Werdum (21-7-1) vs. Derrick Lewis (18-5, 1 NC), Heavyweight

Coming off a contest with Alistair Overeem in which he won the battle only to lose the fight – Werdum was never hurt whereas Overeem battled to remain conscious over the final round -- Werdum is looking to get back on the fast track to title contention. The sooner the better since Werdum recently celebrated his 40th birthday. The heavyweight division does tend to age better than any other division, but the amount of fighters who have found high-level success after 40 is incredibly short.

Lewis is the biggest challenge of Werdum’s UFC career in the literal sense. The hard-hitting behemoth declared his retirement earlier this year after a loss to Mark Hunt, though few actually believed the big man was walking away from his career as he was just breaking into the elite of the division. Given some time to rest and recover, Lewis decided to return and is now in the biggest contest of his career.

A very flawed fighter, Lewis has made strides to shore up one of his biggest weaknesses – his gas tank – though he still has a tendency to fade. However, his last three contests were all five-round main events and this contest is scheduled for three rounds. Lewis will have a bit more freedom to go for the kill against Werdum with his clubbing overhands. Werdum’s chin is hardly impenetrable as Stipe Miocic showed when Werdum stupidly went for the kill, but he typically does a much better job of avoiding having his lights turned out by keeping his chin tucked. Then again, that may not make a difference against Lewis’ ungodly power.

Defense is another thing Lewis has struggled with, though he has made a few adjustments over the years and rarely takes clean head shots are this point. Still, he has been taking a lot of damage in his recent contests. Werdum does a fine job of utilizing his reach with his jab and front kicks to the midsection, an area that has become a target area on Lewis. Even more dangerous for Lewis, Werdum hasn’t shown any signs of his underrated athleticism declining, indicating that he can still pull of a spinning back-kick or jumping side-kick.

The heart of Werdum’s attack is still his world class BJJ. However, he hasn’t looked to take the fight to the ground nearly as much since he developed more confidence in his striking. He’ll likely be more likely to get the fight to the ground with Lewis as opponents have had great success getting the big man to the ground. Keeping him down has been a different story as Lewis’ raw physicality has typically proven too much for them to keep him on his back. Though Lewis has improved his offensive wrestling, don’t look for him to make any attempts to go to the ground.

Lewis’ physicality and raw power make him a threat to win any contest he’s in and Werdum has had a reputation of being KO’d when he doesn’t take his opponent serious. However, Werdum has never lost consecutive contests as he tends to come back to earth and take his following opponent more serious. Though there are a lot of plausible outcomes for this contest, the most likely scenario playing out in my head is Werdum wearing out Lewis with body shots, getting him to the ground late, and being the first to submit the Black Beast. Werdum via submission, RD3

Mara Romero Borella (11-4, 1 NC) vs. Kalindra Faria (18-5-1), Women’s Flyweight

A bit of an odd choice for the main card as both Borella and Faria are making their UFC debuts, but the UFC had a women’s flyweight bout scheduled in this spot originally and damn it if they weren’t going to keep a women’s flyweight contest in this slot!

Though neither had much notice for this contest, Borella’s announced participation came less than a week before UFC 216 was scheduled to take place. The Italian is primarily a kickboxer, preferring to circle on the outside as she pumps a steady jab. When an opening presents itself, she’ll march her opponent down with a flurry of punches and has some nice trips to get the fight to the mat when she desires. Once on the ground, the last thing Borella’s opponent wants to do is leave an arm available for the taking as Borella as every one of her submission victories have come by way of armbar. She also has a bad tendency to circle into the fence and doesn’t have a lot of power, not to mention her lack of durability.

Faria isn’t a powerhouse either, but she does have a bit more pop and a wide variety of kicks in her arsenal. She has shown a willingness to eat a punch to deliver her offense, but usually keeps her chin tucked to avoid being put to sleep. Faria’s clinch offense is probably her strongest suit as she has a nice Thai plum that allows her to rip knees to the body with regularity. She doesn’t always look to go to the ground, but Faria is similar to Borella in that she has a knack for the armbar in addition to an active guard and a top heavy game.

I’d much rather see what these ladies can do given a full camp, but this is what we got. Faria only has about four or five extra days to prepare for this contest over Borella, but that could prove to be crucial in her weight cut and preparation. Borella doesn’t have the necessary power for me to think an upset is likely, so I’m going with the Brazilian in what will likely be a tepid contest. Faria via decision

Beneil Dariush (14-3) vs. Evan Dunham (18-6), Lightweight

If there is any fight on the card that could steal the thunder away from Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson in terms of pure in-cage action, this is it. Dunham is one of the top action fighters in the UFC today and Dariush is just as capable of providing fireworks if given the right dance partner. Dunham is that dance partner.

It’s been over a year since we last saw Dunham as injury scrapped the one scheduled contest he had booked for earlier this year. He wants to make a run at the title, but is running out of time as he’ll be 36 years old before the end of the year. Even if he is unable to make a successful run to the top, he’s carved out a memorable career by developing into one of the best pocket boxers. A southpaw, Dunham starts by pawing with his jab before graduating to lengthier combinations. While he doesn’t have a lot of power in his fists, few can consistently pile up the volume like Dunham. Securing at least 127 significant strikes in three of his last four contests is all the proof that is needed.

Dariush has shown the capabilities to be the same type of striker as Dunham, only with speed. Also a southpaw, Dariush employs a pressuring style similar to his mentor Rafael dos Anjos. The kicks he delivers are well-placed to the legs and midsection with a prominent jab. However, Dariush typically moves past the pocket and into the clinch where he can choose to either take the fight to the ground with his chain wrestling or utilize his brutal clinch with knees and elbows. As shown in his last contest against Edson Barboza, Dariush can get reckless at times as he dove for a naked takedown and ended up on the receiving end of a KOTY candidate from a Barboza leaping knee.

As good as the standup would appear to be, it’s possible the ground game could be just as intriguing. Dariush has long been acknowledged as one of the better pure grapplers in the sport – not just the division – as his multiple no gi BJJ world championships can attest to. However, Dariush has also struggled to get the fight to the ground in recent contests, securing just one takedown in his last five appearances as his competition has consistently stuffed his attempts. Though Dunham is known for his boxing at this stage of his career, he entered the UFC known as a wrestler and has shown no decline in his abilities even if he doesn’t utilize it as often as he used to. Opponents still struggle to get him to the ground and he showed the ability to take an opponent to the ground when needed in his contest with Ross Pearson a few years ago.

In terms of pure physical talent, Dariush should own the advantage. He’s younger, more athletic, and a better grappler. He has also consistently faced a higher level of competition in recent contests. However, Dunham presents a bad matchup stylistically for him, starting with his southpaw stance which will make it more difficult for Dariush to land his vaunted body kicks. Given Dariush’s ability to bounce back from losses stronger than ever, I’m still picking him to emerge victorious, but I will hardly consider it to be an upset should Dunham find a way to sway the judges in his favor. Regardless of who wins, expect this to be one of the better contests of the night, if not the best. Dariush via decision