November 3, 2016

UFC Fight Night 98: Tony Ferguson, The Dangerous Dark Horse At Lightweight

By Raphael Garcia

Skepticism plays a major part in mainstream sports coverage. Whenever a team or individual athlete has a run of success, there are always detractors looking for reasons to chip away at the spectacular performances in front of them. Tony Ferguson is a man in the midst of a big run; riding an eight-fight win streak, he is heading into his biggest match to date at UFC Fight Night 98 against former UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos. Win or lose, Ferguson’s career is in for major changes come Saturday night.

While the UFC rankings may not mean much when it comes to matchmaking, Ferguson has slowly climbed up the ladder in the 155-pound weight class. After some near misses with big fights that were scrapped due to injury, Ferguson has an opportunity to solidify his place in the title picture with a strong performance this weekend.

MMA Oddsbreaker has this as a close fight, with Ferguson being a +130 underdog to dos Anjos’s -150 favorite. Stylistically, this is an interesting contest due to Ferguson’s aggressive and diverse style. He’s willing to mix it up on the feet while taking risks on the ground. However, Dos Anjos has shown a proficiency in handling aggressive fighters, pushing them back into a slower pace that allows him to overwhelm them gradually. With the potential to go the full five rounds, this fight has the makings of one of the best fights in the entire division.

Ferguson has a lot at stake at this point in his run. Each time he’s stepped into the cage he looks like he’s still rapidly improving, even with nearly 10 years of time in the sport. Yet Ferguson doesn’t have many of the big wins needed to solidify him as a top contender. Defeating former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson at UFC Fight Night 71 is the biggest win so far in his career. Defeating dos Anjos puts him in the perfect position to push for a fight against the winner of Eddie Alvarez vs. Conor McGregor at UFC 205. Even though a win doesn’t automatically qualify him for this shot, it goes a long way in legitimizing his status in the company.

On the other hand, a loss stops his momentum and may brand him with the feared tag of “gatekeeper.” At a time in the sport when it’s already difficult enough to get big fights and big paydays, a fighter cannot afford to get pushed down the roster. Ferguson’s win streak isn’t enough to demand a title shot, as his name value hasn’t percolated outside of the hardcore fan base. A dominating win against RDA helps him, but a loss on the main event stage would do much more harm to his career.

Ultimately, the main event of UFC Fight Night 98 will be a true litmus test for Tony Ferguson. He has the opportunity to secure a win over a former UFC champion and announce himself as the next big threat for whichever man ends up carrying the title. A loss would be a hit that his career would take years to recover from, but in the end, that’s the risk that all fighters take when they step into the cage and compete at the highest level.

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