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UFC Fight Night 98: Rafael Dos Anjos vs Tony Ferguson – Preview & Prediction

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 04: (L-R) Rafael dos Anjos of Brazil and Tony Ferguson of the United States face off during the UFC weigh-in at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico on November 4, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

UFC Fight Night 98 takes place on Saturday night, a card that perhaps has been slept on by some given the fact that it falls just before next weekend’s monumental UFC 205 in New York City.

In the main event, we have an absolute gift of a contest between top lightweights Rafael dos Anjos and Tony Ferguson, a five-round matchup that will undoubtedly have major title implications for the winner.

This one has ‘fight-of-the-night’ written all over it. Both of these guys know how to take the fight to their opponents and have proved time and time again that they have the ability to finish a fight both on the feet and on the ground.

In Rafael dos Anjos, we have a former champion – one who up until his last fight – seemed on course to dominate the 155lb division, showing virtually no signs of vulnerability. At UFC Fight Night 90 he faced off with current champion Eddie Alvarez, losing his belt in the process by way of first round TKO.

While the gameplan of Alvarez in that fight was a good one, and he deserved to get the win the way he did, dos Anjos – in the minds of many – is still one of the greatest lightweights to ever step into the octagon and in a rematch, would more-than-likely enter as the betting favourite.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 07:   (R-L) Eddie Alvarez punches Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil in their lightweight championship bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 7, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson has been a standout for some time now. The Ultimate Fighter season 13 winner has blasted his way through his last 8 opponents, earning himself 6 finishes and 5 performance bonuses in the process, placing him third in the official lightweight rankings.

His last two fights, with Edson Barboza and Lando Vannata, were thrilling, high-octane contests, both of which not only showcased Tony’s nasty d’Arce choke but also his pressure, unorthodox striking and willingness to stand and trade.

What makes this such a fun fight is that both of these guys excel at dictating the pace of a fight. Both enjoy forward movement and it will be interesting to see which one of the pair will be the first to back up when the octagon doors close.

SIOUX FALLS, SD - JULY 13:   (L-R) Tony Ferguson punches Lando Vannat in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event on July 13, 2016 at Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

At this stage, we all know what RDA brings to the table. He likes to smother his opponents with his constant pressure and throws some of the most powerful body and leg kicks in the game right now, ones he used most recently to stop Donald Cerrone in the space of 66 seconds. He is a longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and his skill at avoiding submissions from the top should nullify the offensive bottom game that Tony possesses.

The confidence RDA has in his defensive jiu-jitsu has come from years and years of rolling with experienced grapplers and even though it’s been about 4 years since he’s bagged himself a submission victory, do not be surprised to see him take El Cucuy down in an attempt to dish out some ground-and-pound, without any fear of a loss by submission.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 03:  Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil performs a workout session for the media and fans during the UFC Fight Night Open Workouts at the Auditorio Blackberry on November 3, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Tony Ferguson will come into this matchup holding the advantage in speed on the feet. His unorthodox all-round game has been known to confuse and stifle the attack of some of his opponents in the past but even though we’ve seen him use spinning attacks and imanari rolls in the past, he has never faced an opponent of RDA’s calibre so it will be interesting to see how methodical he is with his offense, especially given his relative inexperience in a 5-round fight.

El Cucuy will hold a significant reach advantage in this fight so look for RDA to try and keep Tony’s back against the fence wherever possible. In a striking contest, I would actually give Tony the advantage due to his versatility and unpredictability but still I think Rafael holds a power advantage in this one, both in his hands and his kicks.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 04:  Tony Ferguson of the United States steps onto the scale during the UFC weigh-in at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico on November 4, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

This fight boils down to whoever can impose their game on the other. Both guys are most successful when they’re playing the role of the aggressor but in this specific matchup, it seems like Tony would do better to maintain his distance, use his reach and not get worn out by the very durable dos Anjos. We’ve seen RDA go the distance before and it’s genuinely frightening how much gas the guy has in the tank.

Psychologically RDA must have taken a hit, losing his belt the way he did but if he can keep his head screwed on tight he has to be given the slight edge in this contest. He’s still arguably the best lightweight on the planet with the exception of Khabib Nurmagomedov and despite the very prominent threat Ferguson poses, he should get the job done and come away with a decision win.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 04:  (L-R) Rafael dos Anjos of Brazil and Tony Ferguson of the United States face off during the UFC weigh-in at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico on November 4, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Not to underplay the possibility of El Cucuy getting the job done, though. He is most certainly deserving of his placement in the lightweight rankings and has shown a healthy attitude towards growth in recent years. It wouldn’t be a surprise in the slightest to see him with his hand raised at the end of this fight but since we’re in the business of making predictions I have to side with RDA.

Make no mistake this is a very interesting and closely matched encounter. Both of these guys (with the exception of RDA’s last bout) have been hitting their stride in recent years and stylistically they offer two very different skillsets, making this a bout with all of the ingredients needed to be an absolute barn-burner.

Prediction : RDA by decision

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Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena

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Author: Cillian Cunningham

Lead mixed martial arts writer who can be contacted at cillian@punditarena.com.