In terms of fan-friendly, exciting, and impactful matchups available for the UFC to book this year, this weekend’s lightweight co-main event between former interim champion Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson, and the most prolific grappler on their books, Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira is difficult to overlook as the most suitable.
Ferguson has all but ruled the roost over the lightweight ranks since give or take December 2015, staggeringly, without ever featuring in an undisputed title matchup under the promotion’s banner. Forced to find a way back to the win column for the first time in a stunning twelve fight and seven-year period, Ferguson draws a longtime contender who has found his groove with aplomb.
With sixteen separate submission wins in his ten-year promotional run, former featherweight contender, Oliveira is on the cusp of his first title challenge in the UFC a division higher, and it would prove laborious to overlook the Brazilian if he follows through with his predicted finish of Ferguson.
Hanging with someone of Ferguson’s poise, experience, management, and mainly, his ability to push the pace continously has been too tall an order for all but Justin Gaethje since 2013. And when dissecting the Arizonian’s surprising display against Ferguson, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the latter emerges without his future fighting career unscathed.
Ferguson has always had the reputation of a pressuring force with a fantastic chin and ability to absorb punishment others may not, but against Gaethje, we saw the Oxnard native mop up some massive shots.
The former interim champion survived a couple of notable onslaughts against former champion, Anthony Pettis, Kevin Lee, Lando Vannata, and even opposite Edson Barboza, but after each of those moments of perturbation, Ferguson managed to gather his equanimity on his way to stoppage wins.
Regaining composure has been something Oliveira has struggled with massively it has to be said during the last couple of years in the promotion. Notably, against common opposition, Pettis, former title challenger, Ricardo Lamas, and lightweight mainstay, Paul Felder, Oliveira never recovered from each adversity — dropping eventual losses via submission and strikes.
The Sao Paulo native’s December 2017 knockout defeat to Felder at UFC 217 has been the last such an occasion where he’s dropped an Octagon loss, and it seems to have spurred on a real new mental approach to fighting for the 31-year-old.
Whilst the level of competition in six of his most recent seven fights has been far from Ferguson — first drawing and then submitting recent Tristar mover, common-foe, Kevin Lee at UFC Fight Night Brasilia in March isn’t something to disregard.
A lot of these high-level grappler pairings seem to disappoint Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu enthusiasts more often than not at the highest level, with the two practitioners in question usually cancelling each other out.
Oliveira may have the most submissions in UFC history under his belt, but Ferguson possesses a slick ground game himself, particularly off his back. When the space fails to open for an offensive choke or joint manipulation, Ferguson is sure to slice from the bottom. Bladez x Shadez.
Where Oliveira in the past shied away from the pressure that an opponent like Ferguson would bring with him, he’s incorporated a Muay Thai aspect to his overall standup, producing undeniable results. And while this kick and spin heavy approach rounds out Oliveira’s striking arsenal, I don’t believe he’s got quite as sharp, and particularly, smothering boxing in and around the pocket to cause Ferguson as much trouble as he could him.
It’s genuinely a massive matchup for both Ferguson and Oliveira, with watchful eyes lasered on the former in a bid to gauge whether his time at the very top is in danger, as well as the burning question surrounding the emergence of Oliveira as a world-beater this deep into his career.
I’m completely torn between who gets the nod this weekend and puts themselves into firm title contention. Ferguson’s pace and consistent pressure over a possible three-round limit is a massive factor in this one, for the simple fact that we’ve seen Oliveira wilt in the past, but long enough ago to suggest those haunting woes have been ironed out. Ultimately, I’m placing my chips on the former gold holder to knock back another streaking talent.
Prediction: Tony Ferguson via third-round knockout.