While the main card of UFC 262 certainly took a hit when it lost Jack Hermansson and Edmen Shahbazyan to COVID-19, it’s still a strong line up. For years, Tony Ferguson was one of the premier action fighters on the UFC roster. He’s coming off a couple of losses – his first in eight years – but he’ll get his opportunity to prove he’s still one of the best against someone who is looking to take over his role in Beneil Dariush. Viviane Araujo is looking to emerge as new contender, but has to get past Katlyn Chookagian to do that. Plus, it’s hard to see Shane Burgos and Edson Barboza putting on anything other than an awesome firefight. That’s not even mentioning the main event….
Tony Ferguson vs. Beneil Dariush, Lightweight
It isn’t just that Ferguson lost two fights in a row. It’s the manner in which he dropped them. His loss to Justin Gaethje saw him endure the type of beating that fighters never really recover from. Think Jessica Penne after Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Or David Louiseau after Rich Franklin for old school fans. Ferguson’s confidence appeared to take a hit, not operating with the same swagger he became known for in his follow-up effort against Charles Oliveira.
So, is Ferguson done as an elite fighter? That’s what we’re all hoping to find out with this fight. One of the most mentally durable fighters in recent UFC history, Ferguson ran against conventional wisdom for years by running his own camps. After the thrashing at the hands of Oliveira, he changed things up. Will that translate into his fights? Hard to say. Ferguson has featured unusual movement over the years, from variations of the moonwalk to random Iminari rolls. It rarely seemed to pay off, but it encapsulated the unpredictable and fearless nature of Ferguson.
Even as he was enduring a severe beating from Gaethje, Ferguson continued to move forward, looking to implement his high-volume boxing upon his Gaethje. It didn’t work in that case, but it did over and over again during his 12-fight win streak. He’s proven just as fearless on the mat, aggressively pursuing submissions when the fight hits that mat. Then again, Ferguson rarely looks to take the fight to the mat… and may be even more reluctant to do so against Dariush.
A highly decorated BJJ practitioner, it’s no surprise Dariush endured the roughest stretch of his career when his focus on the ground game was at an all-time low. After regaining his confidence with a number of mat-based performances, Dariush began expertly mixing in takedowns with his aggressive brand of Muay Thai and the results have never been better. There are still questions about his wrestling given he hasn’t found consistent success taking the fight to the ground against someone with the reputation of Ferguson, but it would be shocking if he didn’t at least try.
Given the questions regarding how much Ferguson will alter his style for this contest, it could be that Dariush is the more reckless striker between the two. That’s not to say there isn’t a method to Dariush’s madness. He’s typically sound in the pocket, but has implemented plenty of spinning attacks and simpler things such as step in knees. Dariush’s chin has been questionable in the past, but he’s eaten several hard shots in recent contests while continuing to move forward.
With all that said, any prediction of this contest still comes down to how Ferguson is expected to look. I’d guess he’s out of his prime, but he’s still a dangerous opponent as he’ll be in his opponent’s face the entire time. The opportunity to win will be there, but the opportunity to endure a beating will be there too. In fact, Ferguson does appear to be a bit slower than he was a few years ago. He is 37 after all, an age in which most fighters either have slowed down or are slowing down. I won’t be surprised if Ferguson takes the W, but I think his time has come and gone. It’s Dariush’s time. Dariush via decision
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Viviane Araujo, Women’s Flyweight
Old school UFC fans will appreciate my comparison of Katlyn Chookagian to longtime welterweight gatekeeper Jon Fitch. Following a loss to one-sided loss to GSP for the title, Fitch was relegated to knocking off the other contenders to GSP’s crown given he didn’t have enough mainstream appeal to encourage the UFC to grant him another opportunity at the belt despite having done more than enough to get another shot. It’s looking like Chookagian could be setting herself up for a similar fate.
That comparison shouldn’t be seen as a knock on Chookagian. Fitch was an elite fighter in his prime and Chookagian, on top of already earning a title shot, is still improving. With an endless gas tank, a lanky frame ideal for striking on the outside, and an underrated wrestling game, there’s a lot to like about her. However, her biggest weakness is the thing that appears likely to prevent her from ever getting another crack at Valentina Shevchenko as long as Shevchenko remains champion: her inability to finish fights. Her 8-4 UFC record is impressive, but every single one of those eight victories were handed to her on a judges’ scorecard.
Finishes defined Araujo prior to her touching down in the UFC, but they’ve dried up as she has faced tougher competition. Whether they can return as she tightens her technique and adjusts to her level of competition is up for debate. Araujo’s offense revolves around her jab, tossing it out there at all levels and angles to great effect. If she begins to follow up on her jab with more powerful shots, the finishes might appear. Or maybe she needs to get the fight to the mat….
Araujo’s grappling was considered to be her strongest trait upon her UFC entry and has made better use of it as her wrestling has improved. The question is whether it’s strong enough to get Chookagian down with consistency. Araujo is the more powerful striker, quicker athlete, and appears to have the superior ground game. The problem for her is Chookagian makes excellent use of her length to keep opponents at the end of her punches. Throw in her strong takedown defense and I’m having a hard time picking against her. Chookagian via decision
Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza, Featherweight
Any time Burgos is on a card, he’s going to be a favorite to pick up a Performance Bonus. In fact, it seems like a surprisingly low amount of bonuses have gone his way with three bonuses in his eight UFC contests. The dude just doesn’t know how to be in a boring fight.
Of course, the reasoning behind that is the likely reason why many believe he’ll never be anything more than a gatekeeper to the top ten: Burgos has no care for defense. He does have the chin to withstand a heavy amount of damage, allowing him to make an entrance into the official UFC rankings despite that glaring weakness. Well... he has his chin in addition to his impressive stamina and creativity. Burgos pushes an absolutely insane pace, throwing nonstop volume with late stoppages being commonplace as his opponents slow under the onslaught.
What Burgos doesn’t have that is one-punch power, something Barboza isn’t lacking in the slightest. To be fair, it might be more accurate to refer to it as one-strike power as most of his finishes have come off the strength of his kicks, but his fists aren’t lacking in their own respective power. Owner of some of the most epic finishes in UFC history, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with more technical kicks than Barboza. Given his reputation with his kicks, opponents tend to crowd the Muay Thai specialist. Though Barboza has improved his ability to fight in the pocket, it’s still a concern against the likes of Burgos.
This is a difficult contest to pick. Burgos is thought to have an advantage on the mat, but so rarely looks to wrestle that it’s hard to see the fight taking place there for an extended period of time. Burgos could very well overwhelm Barboza with his volume, but given his lack of defense, it seems like there’s a very good chance Barboza lands one of his epic killshots and adds to his highlight reel. Even though Burgos’ chin is solid, Barboza’s power can put out anyone if he lands cleanly. For hell’s sake, I seriously thought he might have killed the aforementioned Dariush in their contest four years ago. Thinking of that some more, I’m leaning harder in the direction of Barboza. Barboza via TKO of RD2
- It’s been a hell of a chore for Matt Schnell to get the respect he deserves. He’s won five of his last six fights, with the best betting odds for him being near even in any of those fights. Of course, starting your UFC career by getting blasted in the first round twice does dig a hole for one’s reputation. Schnell has been able to overcome that by focusing on defense, emphasizing his reach, and improving his boxing technique. At heart, he’s still probably most comfortable pursuing submissions – six of his ten wins outside the UFC were subs – but being selective about his takedowns helps protect his chin. Against Rogerio Bontorin, he might be better off striking even if he wasn’t chinny. Not that Bontorin can’t strike. He’s not to bad on the feet. It’s just that he’s on the reckless side and has been able to get away with it due to his plus athleticism. On the mat, Bontorin is far more methodical and technical, yet he still slurps up submissions at a pace even faster than Schnell. The issue for him in the UFC has been getting the fight to the mat, though there have been encouraging signs he’s shored up his wrestling. Still, I don’t think he gets and keeps Schnell down for long. I’d say there’s a better chance Bontorin throws something wild that catches Schnell, but the odds are even better Schnell uses his slicker boxing to stay outside of Bontorin’s range and pieces him up. Schnell via decision