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UFC 181: Hendricks vs Lawler II - Idiot's Guide to Tony Ferguson vs Abel Trujillo

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Breaking down the three things that you need to know in this thrilling contest between two all-out action fighters

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The main card of UFC 181 in Las Vegas Nevada kicks off as it means to go on, with a thrilling clash between two fighters who always guarantee fireworks. Each man is looking to build on recent success to make it into the upper echelon of the stacked 155 lbs division.

Who They Are

Lightweight Abel Trujillo versus Tony Ferguson

Tony "El Cucuy" Ferguson is the TUF 13 winner. He is 16-3 overall, with 9 KO and 4 submission victories, and is 6-1 in the UFC. He is coming off a split decision win over Danny Castillo.

Abel "Killa" Trujillo is 12-5-1, with 5 knockouts and three submissions, and is 3-1-1 in the UFC. He is coming off a knockout win over Jamie Varner.

3 Things You Should Know

1. Everyone complains that TUF doesn't produce quality talent any more, but honestly, it still continues to produce really solid fighters

Tony Ferguson is a good example. The lanky lightweight is an almost unique breed of wrestle boxer- as I think I've said before, I always find that one of the greatest ironies is that ended up fighting John Hackleman protege Ramsey Nijem in the finals of his season of TUF, because he's the closest thing to an analogue of Hackleman's most famous pupil, Chuck Liddell, that I've seen in the modern UFC. The hunched posture, the counter-wrestling style, the way he unfurls lengthy, thudding punches from his shoulder. This is particularly troublesome for his opponents, as Ferguson packs a ridiculous reach for the division and throws an enormous volume of strikes, so that anyone approaching him straight on will have to wade through a fusillade of power shots. He also has an excellent offensive guard, some vicious leg kicks, and an array of choke submissions, although he has at times seemed too happy to fight off his back.

2. Do the Blackzilians have the anti-Ferguson formula?

Ferguson's sole blemish in the UFC is his unanimous decision loss to Trujillo's teammate, Michael Johnson. "El Cucuy" appeared to be deeply flummoxed by Johnson's lateral movement and usage of kicks, including one which broke Ferguson's arm early in the fight. The problem which this illustrated with Ferguson's approach is that it is somewhat linear, and his powerful, long strikes have a good amount of hang time on them. The mighty Yves Edwards was able to exploit Ferguson in a similar manner, cutting in and slipping under to counterpunch in a fight which many (including myself) thought should have gone the way of the Thugjitsu Master. Essentially, there is a clearly-defined level of technical striking which Ferguson has historically struggled with.

Trujillo is probably as athletically gifted as Johnson is, but he has a number of hurdles to overcome if he's going to mimic his teammate's success. He's shorter, and fights with a more explosive and less measured style, choosing to both open and to counter with savage hooks and crosses. He's shown marked and rapid progression from his earlier fights where he was essentially a physically powerful brawler, and has shown particular improvement in the clinch both defensively and offensively, including brutal knees from the collar tie. However, at least in his latest contests, many of his problems remain: he tends to follow opponents instead of cutting angles on them, staying directly in front of them at all times. He also shares a negative tendency with his erstwhile teammate Melvin Guillard in that while he is capable of physically shucking off takedowns and exploding back to his feet, he tends to give up his back when scrambling (a tendency which was repeatedly exploited by Khabib Nurmagomedov).

While Ferguson does not generally use his wrestling offensively, he's happy to take the fight wherever it goes, and will pounce on any chances to take the back or lock in a choke.

3. The mental game is at least as important as the physical one

Calling Trujillo mentally frail is perhaps unfair- he threw down with Jamie Varner in a balls-to-the-wall action fight, even while getting badly rocked, and knocked the WEC veteran out. However, I can never fully dispel the image of him shaking his head and throwing his hands up in the air in exasperation whilst Nurmagomedov ragdolled him around the cage.

Ferguson, conversely, has kept plugging away in every fight, even with one arm. He's also shown an ironclad chin, and I cannot think of a moment when I have actually seen him rocked. Despite the fact that Trujillo has monstrous power, it's difficult to see him putting "El Cucuy" down or hurting him badly enough to make him tentative unless Trujillo lands the shot of his life.

If he follows his most recent tendency to close in a straight line and brawl, Trujillo is going up against big discrepancies in reach and striking diversity, exacerbated by his tendency to throw looping hooks. I expect Ferguson to land straighter one-two combinations and vicious leg kicks in a fight which may start off competitively, but should become progressively more one-sided over time until Trujillo mentally breaks and "El Cucuy" locks up a submission in a scramble.


Tony Ferguson by submission, round 3.