The co-main event of The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale is an exciting lightweight contest between #6 ranked Edson Barboza and #7 ranked Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson. Both fighters are inching closer to a title shot and will try to make a statement that they belong in the upper tier of the UFC’s lightweight division. Edson Barboza (16-3 MMA, 10-3 UFC, +155 underdog) Barboza was labeled a future top ten fighter almost immediately after his UFC debut, which was a technical knockout victory due to leg kicks. The Brazilian won his first four appearances inside the Octagon, which included wins over Ross Pearson and Terry Etim. His wheel kick knockout of Etim will be featured on highlight reels for years to come and is easily one of the best knockouts in UFC history. Barboza ran into his first road block when he faced tough veteran Jamie Varner at UFC 146 in 2012. Varner mixed his strikes up with his wrestling and ended up knocking Barboza out in the very first round. Since then Barboza has gone 6-2 in the UFC, which includes wins over Paul Felder, Danny Castillo, and Bobby Green. His two losses during that stretch were to current number one contender Donald Cerrone and #5 ranked Michael Johnson. After losing to Johnson in February, Barboza bounced back by soundly defeating Paul Felder in July. The 29 year old Barboza is a terrific athlete that possesses amazing quickness and explosiveness. The striking specialist is a Muay Thai aficionado that has added more layers to his game under the tutelage of boxing coach Mark Henry, who is also the coach of Frankie Edgar. Barboza previously used a much more stationary approach, but he now employs more of a stick and move strategy. He will land a combination, circle away, reset, and unload more strikes. The Brazilian is known for his devastating arsenal of kicks. Much like Jose Aldo, he has debilitating leg kicks that can take his opponent’s movement away after only a few clean kicks. Barboza also utilizes wheel kicks, roundhouse kicks, front kicks, spinning back-kicks, and switch kicks, all of which come extremely hard and fast. While his punches are not nearly as proficient as his kicks, he has very fast hands a nice jab, overhand right, and left hook, all of which he throws well in combinations. Defensively, Barboza often leaves himself there to be hit and his chin is not very good. He has been rocked and dropped in several fights, including by a jab by Cerrone. That is extremely concerning going forward, as his chin is not something that is going to get better. Additionally, he is much better when his opponents meet him on his terms, primarily in the center of the Octagon where he can utilize his range, quickness, and kicking arsenal. He is not nearly as good when he is heavily pressured and constantly forced backwards. The ground game of Barboza is not something you see much of in his fights. The Brazilian jiu jitsu purple belt does not initiate grappling sequences and has not shown much of an offensive submission game. However, he does have above average takedown defense and is adept at creating space and scrambling back to his feet when he does get taken down. His submission defense has been pretty solid since entering the UFC, as Cerrone has been the only fighter to submit him, and that was after Cerrone rocked him first. Tony Ferguson (19-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC, -175 favorite) Fans may not recall this, but Ferguson entered the UFC by competing on season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter. With Brock Lesnar as his coach, Ferguson cruised to the finals, where he met Ramsey Nijem. “El Cucuy” had his coming out party that night, as he flattened Nijem with a big left hook in the first round that ultimately won him the show and a six figure UFC contract. After his fight against Nijem, he knocked off Aaron Riley and Yves Edwards before he ran into trouble for the first time in his UFC career. Ferguson broke his forearm when he blocked a kick early in his next fight against current lightweight contender Michael Johnson. The injury was too much to overcome and he was handed his first official UFC loss. Actually, he had to have surgery on his arm and was on the shelf for 17 months, which is a long time for a fighter to be out of action. However, he has made up for that in a big way. Since returning at UFC 166 in October of 2013, he has reeled off six straight wins inside the Octagon over an increasing level of competition. Ferguson’s notable wins during that stretch came against former Strikeforce Champion Josh Thomson, Gleison Tibau, Abel Trujillo, and Danny Castillo. His last fight against Thomson was an absolute bloodbath, as he gave Thomson a severe beating for three rounds. The California native is an unorthodox fighter that likes to take a lot of chances that most fighters are unwilling to take. Although he switches stances regularly, he usually fights out of an orthodox stance. His striking game features heavy pressure and a high volume of strikes. The constant pressure Ferguson puts on his opponents is very difficult for them to deal with. He is constantly throwing punching combinations, which he combines with leg and body kicks to form a potent attack. Additionally, he has knockout power in both hands and likes to throw nasty standing elbows that will often cut his opponent up. Defensively, he is a bit too hittable for my liking, but he has a very good chin and if he does get dropped he immediately recovers. The biggest edge Ferguson will have in this fight is on the ground. “El Cucuy” is a brown belt in jiu jitsu under 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu founder Eddie Bravo. He has a nasty arsenal of submissions and will not hesitate for one second in going for a submission, even if it is not a high percentage technique. Also, Ferguson has a knack for taking his opponent’s back, where he often finishes them with a rear-naked choke. He finished Tibau and Trujillo by rear-naked choke in the last year alone. However, Ferguson’s D’Arce choke is his go-to submission, though he also has great armbars, guillotines, and shoulder locks. Defensively, his submission defense has not been tested much in the UFC, but it is very good. Further, Ferguson has a quality wrestling background that he can go to if he is losing the standup battle. He was a state champion wrestler in high school and won a National College Wrestling Association national championship in 2006. Thoughts I believe Ferguson deserves to be the favorite here. He is the more well-rounded fighter and has more ways to win. Ferguson’s pressure on the feet should cause Barboza problems, as he will not have the space to get his kicks off. Additionally, putting constant pressure on Barboza will stop him from getting into a rhythm, which is very important because Barboza is tough to stop once he gets into a good rhythm. Further, Ferguson is a decent wrestler and is great at locking up chokes in transitions. If he gets Barboza to the ground there is a good chance he will find a submission. Another factor at play is Barboza’s shaky chin, which has led to his downfall a few times. Ferguson hits very hard and could certainly knock Barboza out. Also, we might see Ferguson hurt him and the jump on a submission, similar to what Cerrone did in his fight against the Brazilian. The Prediction: Tony Ferguson defeats Edson Barboza by submission (round 2)
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