After an extended hiatus, the UFC returns this weekend with a stacked card headed to Mexico City featuring a battle of two of the best lightweights in the world in the main event.
Former champion Rafael Dos Anjos will look to bounce back from the fight that cost him the title when he fell to Eddie Alvarez earlier this year and now he's determined to get back to the top starting with his fight this Saturday night. Standing across from him is Tony Ferguson, who has won eight consecutive fights while making a steady climb up the lightweight rankings.
Also on the card, submission specialist Marcin Held makes his long awaited UFC debut as he takes on Ultimate Fighter season one legend Diego Sanchez in the co-main event. Ricardo Lamas is also back in action as he faces off with Brazilian Charles Oliveira while highly touted prospect Alexa Grasso makes her UFC debut against former Ultimate Fighter season 20 competitor Heather Jo Clark.
In today's Cheat Sheet, we're going to examine some of the key matchups from the card coming up in Mexico City to see who has the advantage and if there might be an upset brewing at UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs Ferguson.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Rafael Dos Anjos (-150 favorite) vs. Tony Ferguson (+130 underdog)
Over the past five years, you'd be hard pressed to find a lightweight with a more impressive resume than former champion Rafael Dos Anjos. With a 10-2 record over his past 12 fights, including wins over Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis, Dos Anjos has proven to be one of the most dangerous and versatile fighters in the division. He will certainly have his hands full this weekend when he takes on Tony Ferguson, who has been a force of nature in his last eight fights as he's run roughshod over some of the best fighters in the world at 155 pounds.
Ferguson is a relentless fighter with an aggressive offense that never seems to slow down from the moment the referee says go until the final horn sounds. Ferguson prides himself on incredible conditioning and a never-say-die attitude that allows him to fight back from virtually any position, whether it's on the feet or on the ground. Ferguson suffered through a scare in his last fight against late notice opponent Lando Vannata, but he still found a way to win in the end, which showed his championship spirit in the face of adversity.
Ferguson might need to show that kind of will again if he wants to get past Dos Anjos, who is a nasty striker on the feet and a world class grappler on the ground. Dos Anjos became champion by showing off serious knockout power honed under former coach Rafael Cordeiro, who famously brought up notable strikers such as Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Wanderlei Silva in Brazil. Dos Anjos counters his striking with a very slick ground game where he currently averages over two and a half takedowns per fight with very good accuracy. Of course, Ferguson comes from a proud wrestling background so he won't be easy to take down, no matter how skilled Dos Anjos might be on the mat.
So who wins this fight?
The biggest factor might be Dos Anjos' ability to bounce back from a disappointing loss and still show up like the top lightweight that he's been the past few years. There's nobody at 155 pounds that Dos Anjos can't beat, but if his confidence is rattled in any way from his last bout with Alvarez, that could be a disaster against someone as dangerous as Ferguson. That being said, Dos Anjos didn't make it to the top of the mountain by accident and he's got the kind of veteran experience that will allow him to bounce back against another top ranked opponent like this.
Because Ferguson sometimes puts himself into harm's way in his fights due to his aggressive style, that could leave an opening for Dos Anjos to take advantage. No matter who wins, expect this bout to have Fight of the Night written all over it, but the edge remains with Dos Anjos as he looks to erase a bad memory from his last loss and remind the world that he's still the best of the best in the lightweight division.
Prediction: Rafael dos Anjos by TKO, Round 3
Marcin Held (-265 favorite) vs. Diego Sanchez (+225 underdog)
It's a little surprising that Marcin Held is such a heavy favorite in his UFC debut while going up against a true veteran like Diego Sanchez, but that's just the kind of respect this lightweight prospect out of Poland commands.
Held is a world-class grappler with submission skills that could give anybody fits if the fight hits the ground. He's best known for his leg locks with a huge arsenal of weapons that include a nasty heel hook, a slick kneebar and even a toe hold that has caught a few opponents off guard. Held is also extremely adept at transitioning from one submission to the next until he finally grabs hold of something that forces his opponents to tap out.
Facing someone as tough as Sanchez will not be an easy test for Held in his debut, especially considering the former Ultimate Fighter season one winner has never been submitted. Of course, Sanchez had never truly been finished by strikes prior to his last fight against Joe Lauzon, but that was the fate he suffered at UFC 200 back in July. Still it's hard to imagine Sanchez being submitted, even by a nasty ground specialist like Held.
There's no doubt that this will be a high pressure situation for Held, who makes his UFC debut after more than 25 professional fights. He's fought on a big stage before, but nothing like what he'll experience by stepping into the Octagon on Saturday night. Add to that, Sanchez has been an impossibly tough fighter to finish throughout his entire career and has faced a legendary list of opponents from middleweight all the way down to featherweight in the UFC.
Sanchez has been his best at lightweight and that's where he'll be this weekend, so look for a classic performance from this UFC legend as he will probably give Held a very rude welcome to the Octagon in his first fight. Sanchez may not get the finish, but his constant pressure and unrelenting offense should put Held on his heels, scrambling for air for 15 straight minutes.
Prediction: Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision
Ricardo Lamas vs. Charles Oliveira
This late notice addition to the card in Mexico City may end up being one of the best fights all night as Ricardo Lamas and Charles Oliveira both look to get back on track after recent losses.
Lamas has been one of the most consistent performers in the featherweight division over the past few years while making it all the way to a title shot back in 2014. He's fallen on tougher times since then while posting a 3-2 mark over his last five fights, but still remains one of the most well rounded and dangerous fighters at 145 pounds. Lamas started his career as a grinding wrestler, but he's developed his hands over recent years and now he's just as tough to deal with on the feet as he is on the ground. Lamas lands with good accuracy and keeps constant pressure on his opponents, which allows him to typically dictate the pace in a fight.
Oliveira has been a little hot and cold in some of his recent fights, but when he shows up, this Brazilian has all the makings of a potential title contender at 145 pounds. At his best, Oliveira is a deadly Muay Thai specialist on the feet with one of the best submission arsenals on the entire UFC roster. Oliveira is an offensive juggernaut who is always on the attack and constantly looking to finish the fight. Oliveira actually averages more strikes landed per minute with more takedowns per fight than his opponent. Defensively, Oliveira seems to be at a slight disadvantage, but his ability to hurt Lamas on the feet or on the ground could give him an edge in many of the exchanges he'll face in this matchup.
Don't sleep on Lamas' ability to grind out a decision, but given Oliveira's incredible submission game mixed with a flashy striking arsenal, the Brazilian seemingly has more ways to win and that will give him the edge in this fight.
Prediction: Charles Oliveira by submission, Round 2
The final of this season of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America pits two of the best young prospects to ever come off the reality show as Claudio Puelles faces Martin Bravo. Puelles was a highly touted prospect when he arrived on the reality show and that's why UFC legend Chuck Liddell quickly made the Peruvian his top pick. Meanwhile, Bravo was the first pick taken by coach Forrest Griffin and he made his way through some very tough competition en route to the final while being undersized in almost every fight on the show.
Bravo is probably a natural featherweight and that may be a big factor working against him in the fight with Puelles. Puelles is a big fighter for the 155-pound division and one of the toughest battles he faced on the show was cutting weight multiple times over the six-week period. With this fight, Puelles will be able to go through his typical weight cutting routine while carrying a significant size advantage over his opponent.
Bravo is a very well rounded prospect with a good submission game, but that could play right into Puelles' strengths. Puelles is best known for his wrestling attacks and work on the ground, where he has a number of impressive submission wins. Puelles has shown rapid improvements in his striking game as well, but Bravo will have a speed advantage on the feet so that could be a much closer battle than the one he would have on the ground. Bravo has very quick hands with great counters and that could help him out while dealing with a taller, bigger opponent.
Still, Puelles has all the makings of a real prospect in the lightweight division and he should be able to showcase that in the fight against Bravo.
Prediction: Claudio Puelles by unanimous decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can – and usually does – happen.
Alexa Grasso (-470 favorite) vs. Heather Jo Clark (+375 underdog)
When it comes to names to watch in the women's strawweight division, there may not be a better prospect than former Invicta FC fighter Alexa Grasso. At just 23, Grasso has shown off a huge arsenal of weapons through her first eight fights while staying undefeated against some very tough competition from the 115-pound division. Grasso is an experienced grappler, having competed in numerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments, and she’s also polished up her striking game, developing a devastating, fight-finishing right hand in the process. Grasso also possesses the ability to simply overwhelm her opponents with blitzing combinations and lightning quick reactions, whether she's going for the knockout or finding an opening for a submission.
Her opponent, Heather Jo Clark, is no slouch and she has plenty of veteran experience to stick around until the final bell, but it feels like she'll be playing defense for most of this fight. Clark has shown incredible toughness throughout her career, and as one of the bigger fighters for the strawweight division, she has the kind of strength that can overpower many opponents.
Unfortunately, in this case, Grasso's skill should negate Clark's strength to give the UFC newcomer an impressive win in her first fight with the promotion.
Prediction: Alexa Grasso by unanimous decision
Sam Alvey has quickly become one of the most watchable fighters on the entire UFC roster thanks to his special brand of offense that typically ends with a spectacular knockout, and that could be the case once again this weekend. Alvey hits like a truck, but also has a very underrated grappling game that earned him a submission victory over Eric Spicely just two fights ago. Of course, Alvey is best known for his fight finishing power and he'll look to add another KO to his resume while facing Alex Nicholson.
Nicholson is no pushover, but at the same time, he likes to brawl with his opponents and that's a very dangerous game to play with someone like Alvey. Nicholson certainly has the ability to put anybody's lights out with the power in his hands, but getting into exchanges with Alvey is like tossing firecrackers at your opponent while he's launching dynamite as a counter attack. There's a chance Nicholson could catch him, but chances are Alvey's going to be the one smiling with a knockout finish when this one is over.
Prediction: Sam Alvey by knockout, Round 2
With four wins in a row in the UFC, Rashid Magomedov has risen up the ranks to become one of the most talked about lightweight prospects in the promotion, but it's still a little surprising to see him favored over Top 10-ranked competitor Beneil Dariush this weekend. Magomedov certainly has the skills to win the fight, but Dariush has faced far better competition throughout his UFC career and he has more than enough weapons to win this matchup.
Dariush began his career as a world-class grappler and he certainly still possesses those skills, but in recent years he's worked with fighters like Rafael Dos Anjos to improve his striking and now he's just as dangerous on the feet as he is on the ground. Dariush has to be careful getting into too many exchanges with Magomedov, who is a very technical fighter on the feet, but there are still plenty of ways for him to win, even if this fight never hits the ground.
Dariush will have a much bigger advantage on the ground, which gives him a few more tricks to throw at Magomedov throughout this lightweight battle. Dariush's takedowns could prevent Magomedov from unleashing some of his signature kicks and that immediately takes away one of the best weapons he has on the feet. Add to that, Dariush has plenty of pop behind his punches to mix with his wrestling and submission arsenal. In the end, Dariush should have more than enough to pull off the victory and silence any doubters who believed he was an underdog to begin with.
Prediction: Beneil Dariush by unanimous decision